With around four and a half months to go, the details of Nigeria’s 2011 elections – and the central actors in the competition – are becoming clear.
Yesterday Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission announced dates for the elections: parliamentary elections will take place on April 2nd, the presidential contest on April 9th, and gubernatorial votes on April 16th. May 29th remains the date for the swearing-in ceremony of the president-elect, leaving Nigeria around seven weeks to resolve any irregularities, problems, or complaints stemming from the elections.
The ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) is also heading toward its nominating convention. What happens there will likely have a decisive impact on the general election. Incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan faces significant opposition from within the PDP, especially from some Northern members who feel that because a Southerner (President Olusegun Obasanjo) ruled Nigeria from 1999 to 2007, Jonathan should step aside and let a Northerner complete the eight-year rotation begun by the late President Umaru Yar’Adua.
On Monday, Northern elites in the Northern Political Leaders Forum (NPLF) moved to defeat Jonathan and restore Northern primacy. The NPLF officially put forward former Vice President Atiku Abubakar as its consensus candidate for the PDP primary. Abubakar hails from Adamawa State in Nigeria’s North East.
Different Nigerian outlets characterize the contest between Jonathan and Abubakar differently. For example, Vanguard depicts the country’s six “geopolitical zones” as somewhat evenly split between the two men, while the Nigerian Tribune argues that the support of powerful governors across the country for Jonathan means that “though politics is no Mathematics, with all these, the fact that the North has a consensus candidate may not really negatively affect the chances of Jonathan at the primaries.” (I highly recommend both links if you want a zone-by-zone view of the contest.)
What many Nigerian media outlets agree on is that the PDP race is narrowing down to Jonathan and Abubakar. Other Northern political heavyweights such as former President Ibrahim Babangida have reportedly thrown their backing to Abubakar. If you believe, as I do, that the PDP’s nominee is the favorite to win the general election, then the pool for the general has shrunk considerably with the elimination of such PDP giants. And if you go the extra step of thinking, as I do again, that Jonathan will win the nomination, then trends still seem to favor him in the general.
Whatever one’s take on the PDP primaries, we have a lot more information about the elections than we did a week ago: a firm date, clearer electoral battle lines, and a stronger sense of what lies ahead. Now I will be looking out for when the PDP sets a date for its primaries, and for a sense of how opposition parties are planning their electoral strategies.