This post first appeared on Africa in Transition. The views expressed are the author's own.
On March 18, governors from Nigeria’s north and Middle Belt met with US National Security Advisor Susan Rice and other US officials at the White House.
The governors come from states where economic development is slow or non-existent and includes those where the radical, Islamist insurgency “Boko Haram” is active.
Following the meeting, the White House issued a typically bland statement: “Rice and the governors discussed the need to bring an end to the violence and insurgency in northern Nigeria; create broad-based economic opportunity in the north and throughout Nigeria; protect and respect human rights; strengthen democratic governance; and ensure that the 2015 election in Nigeria are free and fair.”
The Guardian (Nigeria) published a read-out of the meeting on March 23 with a different flavor. It cites “authoritative sources,” who almost certainly were Nigerian. The Guardian states that Governors Murtala Nyako (Adamawa state), Rabiu Kwankwaso (Kano state -- the largest state in Nigeria by population), and Kashim Shettima (Borno state -- a major center of Boko Haram), perhaps among others, were highly critical of President Goodluck Jonathan and his administration.
The Guardian devotes the most space to Governor Nyako’s remarks. It reports that the governor accused federal security agencies of colluding with the backers of Boko Haram to perpetuate the conflict. He said the security services facilitated the flow of arms and information to Boko Haram.
The real kicker was his accusation that the motivation behind the collusion was to reduce the voting power of the North East in the upcoming 2015 national elections and (in the words of the Guardian) “to keep the region perpetually underdeveloped.”
Nigeria’s ambassador to the United States, also present, is reported by the Guardian to have strongly objected to Mr. Nyako’s attack on the president.
The Guardian reports that the ambassador was supported by at least two other governors, both of whom are members of Mr. Jonathan’s Peoples Democratic Party. (Nyako, Mr. Kwankwaso, and Mr. Shettima are members of the opposition party).
The Guardian is a leading Nigerian newspaper with a national circulation. Its report of the White House meeting is credible.
Given the horrific nature of Boko Haram violence, it might seem extraordinary that a governor would accuse the security services of collusion with it. However, many of my northern contacts say much the same thing as Nyako.
Similar accusations were made about security service collusion with the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) before and after the 2007 elections. It was widely said that the security services wanted to keep the MEND insurgency going because it ensured a steady flow of federal funds into the security services -- from which they pocketed a percentage through various forms of corruption.
I have insufficient information to comment on the veracity of Governor Nyako’s accusations, any more than I was able to comment on alleged security service collusion with MEND.
However, that many Nigerians find such accusations credible, at the very least, is evidence of the profound lack of trust between the Abuja government and its citizens.