TIME Nigeria

Twitter Courtesy Has Been a Factor in Reducing Post-Election Violence in Nigeria

NIGERIA-ELECTIONS-RESULTS
Nichole Sobecki—AFP/Getty Images Nigerians celebrate the victory of main opposition presidential candidate Mohammadu Buhar, in Kaduna on March 31, 2015.

Nigeria's election defied predictions for widespread violence and fraud. A concerted social media campaign may have played a part

For an election considered too close to call as Nigerians went to the polls en mass on Saturday morning, nothing was more surprising than the fact that for the first time in the country’s post-colonial history an opposition challenger succeeded in pushing out a sitting president via the ballot box. That and the fact that for all the dire predictions of doom and violence, the final results were accompanied by cheers and groans, not gloating and gunshots. Some of that just may be attributable to winning candidate Muhammadu Buhari’s remarkable Twitter feed, rife with positive thoughts and cheerful goodwill throughout.

Winning candidate Muhammadu Buhari, who will be sworn in as President on May 29, praised his rival President Goodluck Jonathan for peacefully relinquishing power. “President Jonathan was a worthy opponent and I extend the hand of fellowship to him,” Buhari told a gathering at his campaign headquarters on Wednesday. For his part, Jonathan, a former Vice-President turned two-time President who many had assumed would never willingly give up power, was gracious in his defeat, saying in a statement, “I promised the country free and fair elections. I have kept my word.” He went on to encourage his supporters to stay calm and accept the results, no matter how disappointed. “Nobody’s ambition is worth the blood of any Nigerian. The unity, stability and progress of our dear country is more important than anything else.”

While there was no shortage of rancor through out the campaign period — at one point Jonathan supporters spread the rumor that a long-planned speaking engagement for Buhari, 72, in the United States was in fact an emergency medical consultation for suspected prostate cancer — both candidates repeatedly professed a desire for a peaceful election and a mature, responsible electorate. By and large they got it, with minimal damage from protestors and a relatively low death toll of just a few dozen, compared to the slaughter of the 2011 election, which saw more than 800 die in widespread rioting. For most of the run up to the election, Buhari supporters and campaign activists hinted at dark conspiracies by Jonathan’s People’s Democratic Party to rig the vote, prevent Buhari supporters from going to the polls, or manipulate the final count.

But throughout it all Buhari’s Twitter feed focused on the positive, rarely betraying the acrimony splashed across Nigeria’s partisan papers. Buhari came late to Twitter, signing on only on the last day of January with the verified handle @ThisIsBuhari, compared to early adopter Jonathan. Buhari demonstrated few of Jonathan’s grievous faux pas, among them the ill conceived #BringBackJonathan hashtag campaign for re-election, a tasteless imitation of the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag slogan to recover the 257 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram last year. From earnest shoutouts to female candidates for state governor:

To exhortations for Nigerians to stay calm in the wake of terror attacks:

His final twitter missive to Nigerians, spelled out over 50 successive posts, qualifies as one of the more novel campaign uses of a medium designed to be brief.

Even when U.S and European officials expressed concern that there might be military and government manipulation in the final counting of the votes on Monday, Buhari urged his supporters to stay calm:

Most endearing of all was a tweet not scripted by Buhari himself, but retweeted in honor of his wife:

But after the celebrations come thorny issues such as taking on the Islamist militants Boko Haram. In a speech on Wednesday, Buhari said: “Boko Haram will soon know the strength of our collective will. We should spare no effort until we defeat terrorism.”

TIME Nigeria

Muhammadu Buhari Wins Nigeria’s Presidency in Stunning Upset

Nigerian Presidential Elections
Anadolu Agency—Getty Images Mohammadu Buhari, the presidential candidate of the main opposition party All Progressives Congress, speaks to the press as he arrives for registration at Gidan Niyam Sakin Yara polling station in Daura district of Katsina, Nigeria, on March 28, 2015

Winning may be just the easy part in a country plagued by insurgency, corruption and economic malaise

In a radical reversal of fortune, presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari has proved that the fourth run is the charm when it comes to being elected President of Nigeria. In an election plagued by technical mishaps, Buhari has sealed victory over incumbent Goodluck Jonathan by little more than 2 million votes in the tightest race the country has seen since the end of military rule in 1999.

Jonathan called Buhari to concede victory on Tuesday evening and if the transition goes smoothly — not a given considering Nigeria’s dark legacy of postelection violence — the onetime military dictator, 72, will be making history as the first opposition candidate to unseat an incumbent since the country gained independence from Britain in 1960.

These hard-won successes will be nothing compared with what is in store for the President-elect, however, from the falling price of oil, economic stagnation, entrenched corruption, a radical Islamist insurgency in the north and the possible resurrection of a southern rebellion. But his biggest challenge yet may be one familiar to any presidential challenger who unexpectedly finds himself a victor in a brutal campaign for change: managing expectations.

“Nigeria is in a situation where we have to get it right, right away,” says banker Henry Farotade by phone from Lagos. “We can’t afford to waste time. We are hoping Buhari will do like Obama when he came in after Bush, and turn things around.”

The spokesman for Buhari’s All Progressives Congress party, Lai Mohammad, says that the President-to-be is more than ready for the charge. Speaking by phone from the Nigerian capital, Abuja, as the final vote tallies rolled in, Mohammad could barely contain his joy. With precision he listed the next steps, from an acceptance speech to how Buhari would deal with ethnic and religious rifts brought on by the grueling campaign. “We are ready. We are going to take Nigeria in a new direction, and we are going to start by healing old wounds. This is no time for a honeymoon, this is a time for nation building.”

Buhari’s success at the polls on Tuesday comes 30 years after he was knocked from his post as military head of state in a 1985 coup. A born-again democrat who has pursued the presidency in every election since 2003, Buhari campaigned on a platform of zero tolerance for corruption and a commitment to wiping out the Boko Haram insurgent group that has killed and kidnapped thousands in the past year.

But for all the international attention Boko Haram has garnered, the threat of a renewed insurgency in the oil-rich south may prove far more devastating for Nigeria’s economic stability, and a far greater challenge for a Muslim from the north who represents everything that the southern insurgents fought against throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, as they sought a greater share of the country’s oil wealth. A temporary truce agreement is up for renewal later this year, and it is not certain that the southern insurrectionists will be willing to work with Buhari.

“There has been a lot of muttering in the south that they will not tolerate a Buhari victory, that they would suspend oil supplies and would kick out northern-owned businesses,” says Ryan Cummings, chief Africa analyst for the Johannesburg-based Red24 risk consultancy. “So the core issue facing Buhari is that he could have an insurgency in the northeast, and in the south as well.” For Elizabeth Donnelly, assistant head of the Africa program at the London-based policy institute Chatham House, the first step for Buhari will have to be “a real charm offensive” in the south, to ensure that southerners know he will be protecting their interests as much as those of his traditional northern constituents.

Nigeria can expect in Buhari a radically different leader from Jonathan, says Donnelly. Given his military background, Buhari is likely to maintain the regional alliance against Boko Haram and keep up a strong military campaign. But he may have troubles on economic issues, where he has little demonstrable experience. “What it really comes down to is whether or not Buhari can devolve economic decisionmaking to the right people.”

For Farotade, the banker in Lagos, what matters most is that Nigerians have proved that they can actually kick a sitting President out of power. “It’s an ecstatic feeling. It means we are gradually coming of age as a real democracy. This is the accountability we have been waiting for.” Though he has high hopes for Buhari, he is confident that if Buhari fails, there will be repercussions. “If Buhari doesn’t deliver, all we have to do is wait till 2019, and we will vote him out.”

TIME Middle East

Saudi Arabia Fears Iran’s Meddling in Arab States as Much as its Nuclear Ambitions

A deal in Lausanne might not reduce regional tensions between Arabs and Persians

It should come as no surprise that Saudi Arabia is closely watching the Iran nuclear negotiations. No country, other than perhaps Israel, has as much invested in keeping Iran not only nuclear free, but economically and geopolitically tied down.

Saudis, whether they speak for the government or independently, regard Iran with deep-seated suspicion that extends into the nuclear deal under discussion. The overall consensus is that they would rather see no deal, than a bad deal. As to the definition of a ‘bad’ deal, the general response goes along the lines of ‘we’ll know it when we see it.’ To Awadh AlBadi, a scholar at Riyadh’s King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies, a bad deal is one that “does not answer to all concerns and does not guarantee the peaceful nature of the remaining Iranian nuclear capabilities.”

Fears that a deal might lead to a regional nuclear arms race are real, says AlBadi. While he says that Saudi Arabia is committed to the ideal of a nuclear-weapons free Middle East, he notes that “continued failure in achieving this may lead many nations in the region, including Saudi Arabia, to pursue such an option.” Saudi Arabia does not have a nuclear program at the moment but if Iran is allowed to continue with its program, he says Saudi will do the same. “Any nuclear rights or leverages given to Iran in any deal would make [Saudi Arabia] feel that it has the same leverages or rights,” should it choose to take that path.

But when it comes to the flip side of the argument, that bringing Iran in from the cold through a nuclear deal might improve stability and trade relations throughout the Middle East, AlBadi is pretty clear that the nuclear issue is the least of the region’s problems with Iran. Sectarianism, he says, is as destructive as nuclear weapons. “Iranian interference in Arab States’ internal affairs on a sectarian basis is destroying the social fabric of Arab societies in certain countries,” like Bahrain, Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. Even if Iran never resorts to using nuclear weapons, he says, “Iran’s sectarian weapon has already been deployed. This has created a deep mistrust of Iranian intentions and policies.

The only real way to calm regional tensions, he says, is by Iran “abandoning its destructive policies and adapting new ones that seeks peace, security and cooperation in the region.”

In terms of a potential deal’s impact on current regional conflicts in which the two countries have rival interests (Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria), much depends, again, on whether it’s a “good” deal or a “bad” deal, says AlBadi. If Iran sees that a deal comes with leniency on other issues — like its role in Syria and Iraq — it would be encouraged to continue meddling. But “if Iran sees the deal as an opportunity to be a normal member of the international community, acting with responsibility for the interests of Iranian people and their well-being and for the stability and security of the region, peaceful solutions can be found for regional conflicts.”

Tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran flared in the wake of the 1979 Iranian revolution, and sparked again most recently in 2011, as disenfranchised groups rose up against their rulers in the Arab Spring, says Toby Matthiesen, a research fellow at the University of Cambridge and author of a recent book on Shi’ites in Saudi Arabia: The Other Saudis; Shiism, Dissent and Sectarianism. This latest round of tensions, however has more to do with Saudi Arabia’s own insecurities as a nation governed by an absolute ruler in an era of popular uprising than Iranian adventurism. He cautions that focusing on the Saudi point of view distorts the reality of the Iranian role in uprisings from Yemen to Bahrain. “Basically the Saudis are trying to blame Iran for everything that goes wrong in the region.” He says the Saudis believe that there is an Iranian hand at play, and it impacts their decision making, but it is not necessarily a realistic view. The Houthis and the Shi’ites in Bahrain “don’t need Iran to revolt — the causes are always local, and in the case of the Houthis in Yemen or Bahrain and eastern Saudi Arabia [where there has been a long-simmering Shi’ite uprising that the Saudis like to blame on Iran] it has a lot to do with longstanding marginalization by the states in question, partially justified on religious grounds.” Iran may have some influence over some of the revolting groups, but “it’s still fundamentally a local problem,” says Matthiesen. “It is unrealistic to say that Iran is behind all of these revolts singlehandedly, without strong local backing.”

The Saudi-Iran rivalry has become shorthand for a complicated evolution in the region in which the Gulf states use Iranian influence in local uprisings to justify the enhancement of local militaries and the creation of a regional defense block that has more to do with defending autocratic regimes than defeating the constructed enemy that is Iran, says Matthiesen. “It is the culmination of a several years-long attempt to form a Sunni block that can on the one hand defend the old regimes against popular uprisings, while on the other hand justify its existence by projecting an Iranian hand on local frustrations.”

Matthiesen’s view is that the Saudi airstrikes on Houthi targets in Yemen are a far more dangerous situation than the successful conclusion of a nuclear deal with Iran. Whether or not Saudi will respond to a deal with nuclear weapons of their own is hard to say, he says, though he notes that the Saudi officials have purposely let leak that they do have some nuclear agreement with Pakistan. A deal alone is not likely to accelerate a regional arms race though, he says. Iran coming out with a bomb would be a different situation. “Senior Saudi royals have said they will get the bomb off the shelf from Pakistan as soon as Iran has the bomb, not necessarily when the agreement is reached.”

Still, the timing of the Yemen airstrikes seems particularly designed to influence the deal making, says Matthiesen. Just as a breakthrough nears, Iran has been thrust back into the international spotlight as a regional bad-boy fomenting rebellion in a one-time US ally. “We shouldn’t forget that this Yemen war comes at the same time of the most intensive, last weeks of the negotiations. I don’t think this is an accident.” The Saudis may have achieved their media objective, but he doesn’t see a real impact on the Western powers at the negotiation table. “

I think the Saudis were maybe hoping that the Iranians would intervene militarily [in Yemen] in response to the airstrikes, and undermine the nuclear deal, and that hasn’t happened.” If, however, a deal is not reached by the deadline, there is a possibility that Yemen could escalate, and the conspiracy becomes reality.

As much as the Saudis might resist, a nuclear deal, says Matthiesen, benefits the entire region. In the short term there may be economic loss as Iran reenters the global economy, but lifting the threat of war in the gulf will bring long-term stability and economic gain. “The perpetual threat of war in the Gulf, with the US or Israel targeting Iran, is not good for anyone, says Matthiesen. “A region where there are less hostilities is good for everyone. Good for trade. Good for development and good for progress. Having an agreement in place for 10 years, with close monitoring, and communication between Iran and the U.S. so that any problems can be discussed and not over blown, significantly reduces the specter of war in the gulf and the attendant social, political and economic upheaval. Unfortunately I don’t think many leaders in the Gulf see it that way.”

 

TIME Daily Show

South Africans Rejoice and Regret Trevor Noah’s Ascension to The Daily Show

For South African comedians, there is no shortage of rich material. A President charged with using state funds to upgrade his personal home with a top-of-the-line chicken coop to an electricity company better at delivering excuses than power — the company recently blamed wet coal for power outages. So it is with some degree of regret, and with a great deal of pride, that South Africans welcomed the news that Soweto-born Trevor Noah is to take over The Daily Show when host Jon Stewart steps down later this year.

Twitter lit up with notes of congratulations and support, as South Africans bequeathed yet another star to the international pantheon of household names. “Could Trevor Noah be SA’s third A-lister after Madiba and Charlize?” wrote Capetonian Sibongile Mafu, using an affectionate term for Nelson Mandela and referring to Academy Award–winning actress Charlize Theron. “I think so!”

Other South African comedians celebrated with humorous riffs of their own, pondering the wealth that comes with taking the job of one of the best-paid television hosts in American history: “South African Google hangs as thousands search “John Stewart’s Salary” #dailyshow #TrevorNoah” tweeted radio host Darren Simpson, before going on to note that his ascension to Jon Stewart-dom “makes you realize your dreams.”

Simpson, who has known Noah since 2006 from their time together on South Africa’s comedy circuit, tells TIME that there is “no doubt that Trevor can deliver. He is a phenomenal talent. He is going to offer something completely different, and completely great.” His humor, notes Simpson, will make for a seamless transition. “The fact that he is from South Africa is superfluous to what an incredible talent he is.”

Not that South Africans will let it be forgotten that Noah is one of their own. “Congratulations, @Trevornoah, on the temporary reunification of South Africa,” tweeted author Richard de Nooy in a take on Noah’s bi-racial origins as much as his ability to transcend the legacy of apartheid and take on still-touchy race issues.

Noah, the son of a black Xhosa mother and a white Swiss-German father whose relationship was illegal during the time of apartheid, often likes to joke that he shouldn’t be allowed to exist. That mixed heritage sparked humorous debate on Twitter, as correspondents mockingly claimed Noah for one race or the other. “Breaking: amaXhosa and Swiss-Germans in fierce race to claim Trevor Noah,” tweeted Cape Town–based journalist Lester Kiewit.

Much has been made of the fact that The Daily Show has chosen for Stewart’s successor a relative unknown on the American comedy circuit. Noah has only made three appearances on the show since he came on as a correspondent in December, and the fact that he has supplanted other favorites may rankle avid Daily Show fans stateside. But for Americans who are only now starting to wake up to the serious race issues that divide the U.S., Trevor Noah could not be a better gift from South Africa. His brand of satirical sugar may yet make the medicine go down. For South Africans, however, the parting is bittersweet. “Trevor is going global, and that’s great,” says Simpson. “But we are going to have to get used to seeing a lot less of Trevor Noah, and that’s a loss.” But when it comes to commenting on the President’s chicken coop, there is sure to be plenty of folks to take his place.

Read next: Trevor Noah Is the Sort of Risk More Networks Should Take

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TIME Nigeria

Nigerian Army Takes Boko Haram Capital and Boosts Goodluck Jonathan’s Election Chances

President Goodluck Jonathan is finally leading a strong campaign against insurgents but battlefield victories may not be enough at the ballot box

The Nigerian army said on Friday that it re-taken the town of Gwoza where the Islamist militant group Boko Haram had maintained its headquarters.

“These successful operations have culminated in the dislodgment of terrorists from towns and communities in Adamawa, Yobe and Borno states,” military spokesman Chris Olukolade told the BBC. He said that Boko Haram fighters were seen fleeing to areas near the border with Camerooon.

The perception of military success might give President Goodluck Jonathan a better chance of beating his rival Buhari who has criticized Jonathan’s failure to take action against Boko Haram in the last six years.

When Nigeria’s presidential elections were postponed by six weeks in February for security reasons, many saw it as a thinly veiled attempt by Jonathan to gain time in a race that was turning in his rival’s favor. Had elections been held on schedule, Buhari might have had a very good chance of knocking the incumbent out of power in a first for Nigeria’s electoral history; the two candidates were equal at the polls.

Despite Jonathan’s best efforts to downplay an Islamist insurgency that had plagued the country’s northeast with massacres, mass kidnappings and a spate of terror attacks that has seen more than 11,000 killed during his time in power, his detractors successfully used the issue to raise wider questions about his abilities as leader of a country that is Africa’s economic fulcrum. So when Jonathan pledged to launch a military operation that would wipe Boko Haram from the map, it was widely interpreted as an effort to buff up his defense credentials in the face of a former military dictator who had made security the cornerstone of his campaign. Jonathan’s Peoples Democratic Party was “aware that after an underwhelming electoral campaign, it needed to recover ground,” says Roddy Barclay, senior Africa analyst at Control Risks, a U.K.-based political risk consultancy. “The military offensive was considered necessary to restrict Boko Haram’s ability to destabilize the country in what was set to be a turbulent election. But it was also seen as a way to boost the PDP’s propaganda campaign, showing that it can manage national security.”


It was a risky tactic; failure, after all, would have made for a potent weapons in the hands of his opponents. But now that the Nigerian army, with the help of foreign mercenaries and a coalition of military forces from Chad, Cameroon and Niger, has managed to push Boko Haram out of all but three of the 20 districts the radical Islamists once held, many are starting to wonder if success on the battlefield will lead to Jonathan’s victory at the ballot box.

That question will be put to the test when Nigerians go to the polls on Saturday March 28. In the closest presidential race since the end of military rule in 1999, Nigerians will be voting on several different issues. Chief among them will be the bread and butter basics that any voter around the world can relate to: jobs and the economy, or, in Nigerian parlance, eba and soup, the national dish of pounded cassava with stewed meat. Jonathan’s record is spotty on both: while Nigeria edged out South Africa last year as the continent’s biggest economy, the country’s vast oil wealth has not trickled down to the general populace. And the global decline in oil prices has hampered investment in a country where at least 70% of government revenue comes from petroleum exports. In addition to security, Buhari has campaigned hard on the issue of corruption, another Jonathan weakness.

So, when it comes to issues, Jonathan may have just succeeded in supplanting Buhari’s security credentials. On Wednesday March 25 Jonathan told the BBC that Boko Haram was “getting weaker and weaker every day…I’m very hopeful that it will not take us more than a month to recover old territories that hitherto have been in their hands.” It later emerged that Nigeria’s anemic army required the assistance of some 100 South African, Ukrainian and British mercenaries, (The Nigerian government acknowledged they are receiving “technical and logistical support” from “foreign contractors”) but what matters in the end is that Nigeria, with the help of its neighbors, now appears to have the upper hand over Boko Haram.

The military offensive has reset the balance of power in the northeast and dented Boko Haram’s confidence while boosting military morale in the lead-up to the elections. That will help government standing in the elections, but it will not be the main factor determining how people vote, says Barclay. While some voters may not want to go against the government just as it is gaining ground, others remain skeptical. After all, Jonathan had six years to do something about Boko Haram, only to act decisively when his reelection prospects were under threat.

In some ways, the fact that Jonathan has not been 100% successful against Boko Haram may also work in his favor. The insurgent group is still active in some areas, and it has promised to disrupt the elections. People in the north, a Buhari stronghold, may be scared to vote; depriving Jonathan’s rival a key vote block.

But the bigger issue is that Nigerians, particularly in the rural areas, still vote along ethnic, regional and religious lines, and in that context, Buhari and Jonathan are evenly matched. Buhari is also avidly courting the relatively small number of swing voters that may be persuaded to vote for Jonathan because of his successes against Boko Haram. Jonathan’s military defeats of Boko Haram “may make a difference to the intelligentsia, but to the grass roots voters it doesn’t make a difference,” says Adunola Abiola, a Nigerian political analyst who founded the UK-based Think Security Africa policy group. “There are many who don’t understand or care about the insurgency, and by and large they are the ones who turn out to vote.”

In the early days of the election, a Jonathan campaign strategist dismissed the insurgency as a significant campaign issue, noting that the majority of Nigerians were more concerned about eba and soup,” and that only those directly impacted by terror attacks would vote on security issues. Now that Jonathan has proved his security bona fides, his strategists may be wishing that Nigerians cared a little bit more about defeating Boko Haram, and less about the economy.

TIME Nigeria

Why Nigeria’s Elections Could Trigger Renewed Violence

Incumbent Goodluck Jonathan and challenger Muhammadu Buhari are neck and neck, setting the stage for violence, or worse, in Saturday's election

On Saturday Nigerians will head to the polls in the country’s tightest election since the end of military rule 16 years ago. One-time military dictator Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) is taking on incumbent Goodluck Jonathan of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in a race that has captivated the country, and the continent, for several months. Not once in Nigerian history has an incumbent government lost a presidential election, but this time around there is a strong sense that the opposition actually has a chance. It’s a sign of a maturing political system, but many fear that the tight race could presage a spasm of post-election violence that could send Africa’s biggest economy over the edge, particularly as the security services are preoccupied with an operation against the Boko Haram militant group in the northeast. A recent Afrobarometer poll shows that most eligible Nigerians intend to vote, but at least half are concerned about political intimidation and violence.

Past elections in Nigeria have proven turbulent, but 2015 is likely to prove particularly volatile, says Roddy Barclay, senior Africa analyst at Control Risks, a political risk consultancy. “Nigeria is at a key crossroads as it enters this election cycle. This is the first genuinely competitive election since democracy was restored in 1999, and that challenges the longstanding status quo in the country’s political system. Under either scenario — a Jonathan or a Buhari victory — we anticipate blowback in the form of unrest in the heartland of the losing candidate.” And in a country already beset by a vicious Islamist insurgency, that unrest could have repercussions across the region.

This is not the first time Buhari, a Muslim northerner, has faced Jonathan at the polls. In 2011 Buhari challenged Jonathan, a Christian southerner, and lost by a large margin. But this time around he has a strong national backing, with the country’s major opposition parties coalescing around him. Polls in December indicated that Buhari and Jonathan were equally popular. A six-week postponement of elections, originally slated for February 14, due to insecurity may have given Jonathan, with his deeper purse, an edge in campaigning, but Buhari supporters have been unflagging. In the interim they welcomed several PDP defectors — and their vote banks — into their camp.

Not only are the vote blocks evenly matched, the potential for frustration-fueled violence as one side looses to the other in a tight race is much higher. There is also the issue of regional rivalry. In running for what some Nigerians consider a third term — Jonathan, a former vice-president, came to power in 2010 when President Umaru Yar’Adua died in office — the incumbent is breaking a longstanding political agreement to alternate power between northern and southern candidates. As a result, there is a strong perception in the north that the region has become increasingly politically and economically marginalized under Jonathan, says Barclay. The government has also struggled to meet the expectations of a young and increasingly urbanized society that demands rapid change, enabling the opposition to gain ground. “Buhari supporters really believe that he can win this time around, because he has a credible platform and a high-profile national campaign,” says Barclay. “So if expectations are frustrated, we’re likely to see a violent reaction.”

And the precedent is grim. When Jonathan was announced the winner of the 2011 election, rioting in the country’s north and central regions killed an estimated 800 in violence that broke largely along ethno-religious lines. “That spasm of unrest was largely due to frustrated northern youth taking to the streets in anger at a vote that they saw as impeding their prospects for future prosperity,” says Barclay. “That anger was manifested in the targeting of communities that were thought to favor Jonathan, in particular Christians in the north.”

Adunola Abiola, a political analyst and founder of the London-based Think Security Africa policy institute, was in the northwestern city of Kaduna during the 2011 riots. The stage is set, she says, for a much more widespread outbreak of rioting. In 2011 the violence was disorganized and spontaneous. “People were coming out and expressing their anger and targeting anyone they thought was in the ruling party based on their religion and ethnicity,” she says. “This time around you have an opposition that is national. It’s more likely that we will see violence across the country.”

Abiola is particularly concerned about the potential for accusations of electoral mismanagement and fraud. It is not clear that voters in the three northern states where Boko Haram is strongest will be able to go to the polls, nor is it certain that the estimated one million people displaced by the insurgency will be able to vote. Likely Buhari voters, their exclusion could spark allegations of fraud should he lose. “I am not suggesting in any way that the APC organizes violence, but they do have a passionate support base that may take violent action if they feel Buhari has been cheated in this election,” says Abiola.

Still, she says, a Jonathan or a Buhari win is preferable to the alternative: stalemate. In Nigeria’s constitution the presidency is not won on a majority vote alone. A successful candidate also needs to get at least 25% of the vote in 2/3 of Nigeria’s 36 states. By Think Security Africa’s calculations, Buhari has the popular vote, but Jonathan has the wider regional base. While a runoff is possible, the numbers are not likely to change on a second round, considering how close the two candidates are, says Abiola. “Our conclusion is that a free and fair poll will likely result in a stalemate.” With an economy rattled by the declining price of oil, the country’s main source of revenue, and an insurgency that threatens the region, Nigeria cannot afford paralysis in government, says Abiola. With so much weighing on the outcome of the election, taking Nigeria into the uncharted waters of a political standoff could be the most dangerous outcome of all.

TIME ebola

Ebola Continues to Punish Survivors One Year After Start of Outbreak

A woman mourns at the grave of her late brother at the National Cemetry on Disco Hill, Margibi County, Liberia, March 11, 2015.
Ahmed Jallanzo—EPA A woman mourns at the grave of her late brother at the National Cemetry on Disco Hill, Margibi County, Liberia, on March 11, 2015

Ebola has almost disappeared, but the suffering continues and little has been done to fix the health services that could not stop it

Every time Foday Gallah slings himself into the passenger seat of his ambulance, he gives a small prayer of thanks that he is still alive. Eight months ago the Monrovia-based ambulance supervisor caught Ebola from a patient as the virus rampaged through Liberia’s capital city. But even in the throes of agonizing joint pain that is characteristic of the deadly disease, he wanted nothing more than to be back in his ambulance again, helping his fellow Liberians. He got his wish. Speaking to TIME on his mobile phone as his ambulance makes its daily rounds — so far two women in labor and a man with severe breathing problems — he describes his recovery and plans for his upcoming wedding. Aside from increased eye sensitivity, a common Ebola-survivor complaint, “I’m doing just great, thanks be to God. But others, man, they aren’t doing so well.” And Gallah isn’t just talking about side effects.

On Sept. 26, 2014, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released an alarming report that suggested that as many as 1.4 million Liberians and Sierra Leoneans could be infected with Ebola by January if adequate precautions were not taken. That worst-case scenario garnered international attention and galvanized local action, helping scale down the exponential spread of the disease over the course of several months. Now, one year since the declaration of what went on to become the largest outbreak of Ebola in history, the total number of confirmed cases in West Africa, or coming from West Africa, stands at 24,701, with more than 10,194 dead. Though those numbers continue to rise, it’s a far cry from how bad it could have been. Still, the impact of Ebola on the societies and the economies of the three West African nations most affected — Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia — has been devastating.

After a four-month convalescence, Gallah was able to get his job back with the ambulance service. Not all survivors were so lucky, he says. Most still struggle to find jobs, from friends at the clinic where he was treated, to Ebola patients he picked up and others he met through a newly formed survivors group. Many have been kicked out by landlords for failure to pay rent on time, or because fear of the disease is still strong in Liberia. But the worst, he says, are the Ebola orphans, the children who lost one or both parents to the disease and now must rely on extended family members for food, clothing, support and school fees. In a country where 84% of the population lives on less than $2 a day, an extra mouth to feed can be an insurmountable burden. The government has stepped in with foster care and orphanages, but that only helps the most extreme cases — children whose entire families have been wiped out. The others fall through the cracks. In his neighborhood alone Gallah knows of at least seven children who are now living with aunts, uncles and cousins who can barely get by. Many are survivors themselves. “It’s pathetic. These orphans are the worst side effect of Ebola, and no one is doing anything to help them.” Gallah, along with other members of his survivors group, now puts aside 100 Liberian dollars ($1) per month for an Ebola-orphans’ fund to help pay for school fees. If nothing is done soon to help in the aftermath of Ebola, he says, “worse than having Ebola will be the life of those who survived it.”

Iris Martor, a nurse and program director at the More Than Me Academy, a free school for disadvantaged girls in Monrovia that was forced to shut its doors when Ebola tore through Liberia’s capital city in August, wants to see the organization expand its mission to educate Ebola orphans. For the moment though, she wants to make sure that the national focus on eradicating Ebola doesn’t waver. At the peak of the epidemic, Martor helped organize a team of nurses to monitor health conditions in some of Monrovia’s most affected slums, and knows all too well how the virus can leap from person to person in crowded quarters. To this day she still cannot bring herself to hug or shake hands with friends. Her caution is warranted. After a hopeful three-week lull since the last reported case of Ebola in Liberia, the World Health Organization announced a new case on Friday. Noting that both of Liberia’s neighbors have seen worrying upticks in case counts, Martor says vigilance is a must. “As long as Guinea and Sierra Leone still have problems, Liberia will be at risk. Only when all three countries are free from Ebola can we put it all in the past. Only then can we really start thinking about the future.”

For his part, Dr. Philip Zokonis Ireland has already started thinking about the future. Ireland contracted Ebola while working at Monrovia’s John F. Kennedy Medical Center in July. His recovery was long and difficult, plagued by anger, depression and what he thought at the time might be permanent nerve damage in his hands. Eventually his appetite, his optimism and his manual dexterity returned, and he says he is a better guitar player now than before Ebola. But the anger remains, he says by phone from J.F.K. Hospital, where he has returned to his old job as a clinician. “Most of my anger had to do with how Liberia’s health care delivery system let us down. So I have decided to use the rest of my life span to develop better health care in Liberia.” He has set himself an arduous task. With only 50 practicing doctors for a nation of 4 million, Liberia’s health care system was already among the worst in the world when Ebola struck, the result of deep poverty and devastating civil war. Ebola laid bare the dangers of physician shortages, a lack of equipment, funding inadequacies and poor communication between clinics, hospitals and the country’s Health Ministry. “We need help. And I am not talking a couple of million dollars here or there,” he says, citing the old proverb about teaching a man to fish. “We need help in the form of doctors and public-health experts who can teach us to have a better public-health system. We need medical schools, and labs. We need to convince our government that public health is the No. 1 priority.” Already he is noticing a worrying lack of government focus on strengthening the system. Ebola, he warns, will burn itself out eventually. “But if we don’t do anything significant to improve our health system, especially health education, it could come back. It might be Ebola, or it might even be worse.”

TIME ebola

Ebola Cases Surge in Guinea, as Liberia and Sierra Leone Show Progress

Members of the Guinean Red Cross move the body of a person who died from the Ebola virus on March 8, 2015 at the Donka hospital in Conakry.
Cellou Binani—AFP/Getty Images Members of the Guinean Red Cross move the body of a person who died from the Ebola virus on March 8, 2015 at the Donka hospital in Conakry.

As long as Ebola remains in one of the West African countries at the center of the epidemic the whole region remains at risk

Even though the latest Ebola epidemic first surfaced in Guinea more than a year ago, the tiny West African nation has been largely spared the catastrophic escalations in case counts experienced by neighbors Liberia and Sierra Leone. At the peak of the crisis, Liberia was reporting 442 new cases a week, with corpses filling hospital morgues and rotting on street corners. Now, nearly two weeks after Liberia’s last known Ebola patient was declared free from the disease, Guinea has reached its own grim milestone, with 95 new cases in the week ending March 15, the highest weekly tally of new cases so far this year according to the World Health Organization [WHO]. Sierra Leone, meanwhile, is seeing some success, reporting 55 new confirmed cases last week in its lowest weekly total since June, when the epidemic first started to spin out of control.

Even though Guinea’s reported caseload was down from that country’s peak of 156 at the end of December, it still represents a near doubling of infections, from 58, in the span of one week. That’s a troubling sign for the region as a whole, particularly as WHO noted with concern that the chain of transmission in Guinea is happening largely out of sight of health workers who can monitor and isolate the contacts of infected people, a process that helps stop the spread. Another cause for concern is that most of the infections in both Guinea and Sierra Leone have occurred along a narrow, well-trafficked corridor along the two countries’ shared border. “The population is highly mobile, with a great deal of movement throughout surrounding districts and countries,” says the weekly situation report. “Limiting the movements of cases and contacts is challenging but essential to prevent the seeding of new outbreaks.”

Thursday marks the 13th day since the last patient tested positive for Ebola in Liberia; but the WHO requires 42 days — twice the maximum incubation period for the highly infectious disease — before it can be declared Ebola-free. Even then Liberia can hardly afford to relax if its neighbors still harbor the disease. Ebola spread in Guinea for four months before it crossed the border to Liberia, launching the epidemic that has so far claimed 10,194 lives.

TIME Nigeria

Boko Haram Under Attack by 4 Armies Led by Nigeria

Chad Boko Haram Flintlock
Jerome Delay—AP Chadian troops participate along with Nigerian special forces in an exercise in Mao, Chad on March 7, 2015.

Even if the allies hit Boko Haram hard militarily, it will still have the potential to launch terrorist attacks

With army trucks bristling with weapons, and soldiers boasting that they would catch Boko Haram militant leader Abubakar Shekau alive, military forces from Niger and Chad crossed into northeastern Nigeria on Monday to open new fronts in a war against an insurgent group that has wreaked havoc in the region for several years. Residents from both Nigeria and Niger described door-rattling booms of fighter-jet missiles and the stutter of artillery fire as troops zeroed in on Boko Haram enclaves near the border. Nigerian army spokesman Colonel Sami Usman Kukasheka crowed to BBC World that the joint effort “will definitely see to the end of the insurgency in Nigeria.” What he didn’t say is that it is unlikely to be anytime soon.

Analysts estimate that Boko Haram controls some 20,000 sq km in Nigeria’s northeast, forming a rough square bordered by Niger, Chad and Cameroon. Though Boko Haram originates in Nigeria, much of its strength comes from its ability to cross borders in pursuit of sanctuary. No longer. The multipronged effort, with troops massing on all three sides, appears designed to encircle the group, cutting off supply lines and escape routes, says J. Peter Pham, a Nigeria expert and director of the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center. It’s not the first time the four countries have worked together to tackle Boko Haram, but this offensive, says Pham, may prove to be the most effective yet. With forces from Niger advancing into Nigeria for the first time, from two different locations on the northwestern border, and with Chadian and Cameroonian forces holding the frontier to the northeast and southeast, Boko Haram fighters have nowhere to go. “The noose is tightening around Abubakar Shekau, and if one looks at the map, it is clear that the ultimate goal is to isolate Boko Haram from” cross-border sanctuaries, says Pham.

With Chadian air support and Cameroonian military backup, Nigeria’s army has already recaptured two dozen towns from Boko Haram, a group that gained international notoriety when it kidnapped nearly 300 schoolgirls from a boarding school in Chibok in April. Still, it is unlikely that Nigeria will be able to fulfill the government’s promise that all territory will be liberated before general elections scheduled for March 28. Boko Haram flourishes in the dense jungles of the northeast, and its brutal campaign of kidnappings, executions and forced conscription ensures local support, even if out of duress. The Nigerian army doesn’t have the troop numbers or the equipment for a full-fledged territorial takeover, but the government cannot afford to let foreign forces lead the fight, either. One of the biggest issues in the upcoming election is security, and incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan can’t risk looking so weak that he requires outsiders to secure the country. “It is politically and psychologically important for the government that Nigerian territory is not seen as being liberated by foreign troops,” notes Pham. Instead the neighbors will play a supporting role.

Nigeria’s military spokesman cites Shekau’s pledge of allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) on Saturday as proof that the regional fight against the group is already having an impact. Liking the pledge to the desperate pleas of a “drowning man,” Colonel Kukasheka told the BBC World Service, “There is no surprise that he is craving for support from fellow terrorists across the world.”

Though Shekau is far from drowning, there may be some truth to the boast. Boko Haram and ISIS have been “circling and courting for a long time,” says Pham, noting Boko Haram’s adoption of ISIS’s black flag and anthem in the fall, and ISIS’s citation of Boko Haram’s Chibok kidnappings as precedence for its own kidnapping of Yezidi women and girls in Iraq. But the fact that both groups have been losing territory in recent weeks means they could use a little bit of a propaganda boost. “It was happening already, but the propaganda needs of both groups expedited the process,” says Pham. “For ISIS to acquire a new province, so to speak, is propaganda that benefits them both.”

That propaganda could quickly turn into a black eye for ISIS if Boko Haram does end up being wiped out through the efforts of the multinational force. ISIS has not yet responded to Shekau’s pledge, and given the current operation, leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi may want to take a wait-and-see approach before he commits to a vulnerable ally. But Boko Haram, like ISIS, has two aspects: a military force that can be defeated, and a terrorist reach that is all but impossible to contain. On the same day the multinational forces started rolling into Nigeria, the provincial capital of Maiduguri was hit four times by suicide bombers. That’s something sure to make ISIS proud.

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