Three Perspectives on Nigeria’s Presidential Elections

Nigeria will hold presidential elections on Saturday, pitting incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) against former military ruler and four-time opposition candidate General Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC). Here are three perspectives on the election – one from a Nigerian analyst, one from the Jonathan campaign, and one from APC.

  • Zainab Usman: “A changing demographic – 70% of the over 170 million Nigerians are under the age of 30 – has laid bare the ruling party’s dismal record in economic and human development. After more than a decade of sustained economic growth, the number of people living under $1.25 a day poverty line according to World Bank figures, hardly budged from 61.8% in 2004 to 62% in 2010. The PDP’s intimidation of party members, elections manipulation and militaristic political culture are also becoming obsolete…It is within this context that the APC emerged as an alternative platform for reconciling competing elite interests, and whose victory would herald the most unprecedented generational power shift in Nigeria since the civil war in the 1960s. Paradoxically the very forces that give the APC its best shot of unseating the PDP undermine its populist-progressive credentials. Key members including former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar and the defacto leader of South-West politics Bola Tinubu are beneficiaries of the current system. To cap it all, the APC’s presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari was a military ruler in the 1980s.”
  • Former Governor Peter Obi, currently Deputy Director-General of Jonathan’s campaign: “Clearly, President Jonathan has achieved more in economic develop­ment than any of his predecessors. All sectors have been positively affected since 2011, when he came into of­fice. The rebasing of Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product ranked the nation’s economy 1st in Africa and 26th glob­ally; from third and 46th respectively. It also showed that the economy has been more widely diversified than before. It will bear repetition to be reminded that Nigeria successfully hosted a World Economic Forum in 2014, Foreign Di­rect Investments were boosted from US$24.9 million as at 2007 to over US$35 billion by 2014; and virtually all quoted companies doubled in size, assets and profit. The marvels in the road sector show that the Jonathan ad­ministration has rendered over 25,000 kilometres of federal road motorable, from barely 5,000 kilometres as at 2011; work is on-going for a second bridge over the River Niger and on the Loko-Oweto Bridge over River Benue; Onitsha now has a port and the dredg­ing of the River Niger is opening up our inland waterways; Nigerian Railways has been resuscitated from a 30-year-old coma, with over 3,500 kilometres of lines now operational. In the meantime, 22 airports have been remodelled to meet international standards. He is si­multaneously constructing five interna­tional terminals, as has never witnessed anywhere in the world, in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Kano and Enugu.”
  • Outgoing Lagos State Governor Babatunde Fashola (APC): “As far as roads are concerned, and they are critical to the economic development and prosperity of our people for the movement of people, goods and services, the record of performance offered by the Federal Government is that they have constructed 25,000 kilometers of road. How true that is, is to be measured by the complaints of PDP Governors themselves, who say Federal roads in their States have been neglected. How bogus this is, is the realization that the distance between Lagos and London is approximately 5,025 kilometers. Has the PDP Federal Government constructed roads that go the distance of Lagos to London five times? Is it possible to do this by a Government that has never had a capital budget of up to 40% in 6 six years?”

Nigerian Elections: Goodluck Jonathan and the Southwest

While many eyes are fixed on the violence in Nigeria’s northeast, the country’s approaching presidential election (March 28) will hinge on what happens elsewhere. One critical zone is the South West, a base of strength for the opposition coalition the All Progressives Congress (APC). The South West is majority-Yoruba, and its most populous city (which is also Africa’s most populous) is Lagos, which has been governed by opposition parties since Nigeria returned to civilian rule in 1999.

The South West voted for the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in each of the last four presidential elections. Indeed, the 2011 elections featured a fairly straightforward electoral map. Of Nigeria’s six geopolitical zones, President Goodluck Jonathan won four of them – the North Central, the South West, the South East, and the South South. His challenger, General Muhammadu Buhari, won the North West and the North East. In 2015, the same two men are competing again, but the map could look quite different. Few doubt that Jonathan can hold most or all of the South East and the South South. But Buhari is more competitive in the North Central and the Southwest than he was four years ago. In 2011, the rumor goes, APC leader and former Lagos Governor Bola Tinubu (then of the ACN, one of the APC’s constituent parties) made a deal with Jonathan to support his presidential bid if Jonathan’s PDP left several South West governorships to the ACN. Whatever the truth of that allegation, this time could be different. Tinubu backs Buhari (unless something changes!), and other South West leaders seem fed up with Jonathan – hence former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s recent endorsement of Buhari.

This dynamic helps explain why Jonathan recently undertook a high-profile, four-day sweep through the South West. His campaign was especially eager to highlight his meetings with traditional rulers, such as the Alaafin of Oyo, the Soun of Ogbomoso, and the Alara of Ilara Epe. Jonathan also met Muslim leaders in the South West. (Although the international media is quick to talk of Nigeria’s “Muslim North” and its “Christian South,” there are many Muslims in the South West, and a sizeable Christian minority in much of the North.) The Punch quotes one purported insider account of behind-the-scenes deal-making:

A former Minister of Works, Chief Adeseye Ogunlewe, told one of our correspondents on the telephone on Saturday that the Yoruba elders lamented that the people of the South-West had been marginalised in the Jonathan administration.

He said the Yoruba leaders asked Jonathan to put into writing that if he wins the March 28 elections, Yorubas would be given key positions in his government.

The Punch goes on to report that the APC has mounted a political counter-offensive.

Which way will the South West go? I would be foolish to offer a prediction. On the one hand you have the power and charisma of the presidency and the PDP, and on the other you have the APC’s impressive coalition and its fierce criticisms of the President’s performance. And one should not minimize the agency of the voters, whose behavior may defy the will of political giants (from either party). In any case, the South West is a zone to watch.

Nigeria’s Opposition: Amid Unification at the Top, Potential for Fragmentation in the Middle

In the first half of 2013, major Nigerian opposition parties have initiated a merger in hopes of defeating the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2015 national elections. The PDP has won every presidential election and swept most legislative and gubernatorial contests since Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999. The new opposition alliance is called the All Progressives Congress (APC). This month, the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) and the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), two parties with strength in the north, formally joined the APC, which also includes the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), whose political strength lies in the southwest. The APC could be the most serious challenger the PDP has yet seen.

But this report from Niger State, in Nigeria’s “Middle Belt,” caught my eye:

A major crisis may be rocking the Niger State chapter of the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) as two factions of the party have emerged with each claiming to be in a merger talk with the newly formed All Progressives Congress (APC).

One of the factions led by a former member of the State House of Assembly, Afiniki Dauda, who claimed to be the interim chairman of the party in the state, had last week at a press conference in Minna appealed to all the party members to forget their grievances so as to ensure that the merger talk with the other political parties went ahead without any hitches.

But Tuesday in Minna, another faction led by the former Chairman of the party, Hajiya Jumai A. Mohammed accompanied by two other State Zonal Chairmen, Samaila Yusuf, and Tanimu Yusuf, at a press conference, described the Afiniki-led interim committee as illegal and lacking in both legal and moral basis.

The story makes me wonder whether opposition parties’ efforts at unification create incentives for middle-tier leaders to break ranks, launch disputes, or otherwise position themselves within a shifting political order. Pre-existing leadership struggles, moreover, could be exacerbated by speculation that the opposition might have a chance at taking national power. Worth recalling here is that the CPC is itself in many respects a breakaway faction of the ANPP, making the CPC-ANPP rapprochement under the APC banner seem a bit tenuous.

As the APC sets its sights on taking out the PDP, in other words, the new alliance will face potentially destructive fights within its own tent. It will be important to see if Niger State’s experience is replicated elsewhere.

PDP Governors and Nigeria’s 2015 Elections

Nigeria will hold not its next national elections until 2015 but campaigning, or pre-campaigning, has in some sense already begun. Posters appeared in the capital Abuja on New Year’s Day promoting the re-election of President Goodluck Jonathan. While I am not an expert in Nigerian constitutional law, my understanding is that Jonathan, since he served less than half of his late predecessor President Umaru Yar’Adua’s term, and is now serving a full term of his own, will be eligible to run in 2015 without running into the country’s two-term limit. And I think he will run, and I think he is likely to win.

But it will be important to see who challenges him, particularly for the nomination of his party, the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Some northern PDP members felt that Jonatha’s decision to contest the 2011 elections violated a “zoning” agreement within the party, wherein the presidency, after the tenure of the southern President Olusegun Obasanjo from 1999-2007, should have remained in northern hands from 2007-2015. But competition for the presidency has to do not simply with “north” versus “south” (Jonathan is a southerner), but also with the country’s six “geopolitical zones” and with a host of other factors, including factional splits within the party that don’t always boil down to geography, but rather to personal alliances or rivalries between major figures. The PDP, as a party, is currently undergoing struggles over key personnel such as the Chairman of the Board of Trustees. These struggles have activated rivalries and zonal competitions.

I hope to attempt a more systematic analysis of intra-PDP affairs next week, but in the meantime here is one PDP governor who seems to be throwing his hat in the ring: Governor Babangida Aliyu of Niger State (North Central Zone):

The first strategy being adopted by the Niger Governor is to send the State Working Committee, SWC, of the PDP on a tour of other state chapters of the party “on a thank you tour over the election of Umaru Chiza as National Youth Leader of the PDP.”
Mr. Chiza was elected almost a year ago in March 2011 at the same time as other PDP leaders like Messrs Tukur and Oyinlola ridiculing any claim of a thank you visit on his behalf.
The delegation, which commenced the tour from the North Central states, was at the PDP secretariat in Jos, the Plateau State capital, on Monday, and was led by the Niger State Chairman of the Party, Mahmud Abdulrahman.
Mr. Abdulrahman in his short remarks said the aim of their visit was to create a lasting relationship among states within the North Central zone with a view to getting their support to “contesting key positions come 2015 general elections”.
However, in a chat with newsmen after the event, Mr. Abdulrahman denied that Mr. Aliyu is nursing the ambition to contest the presidential race.

We’ll see who else hints at a run.

Nigerian Elections: More Results and a Few Hypotheses

Since I posted some results from Nigeria’s legislative elections on Monday, the Nigeria Elections Coalition has updated its site with more numbers and has helpfully organized them into charts. Looking at the current count for the Senate will let us advance some hypotheses to explain the voting patterns:

Senate Elections (86 results out of 109 total seats):

People’s Democratic Party (PDP, currently holds the presidency and legislative majorities): 55

Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN): 13

All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP): 7

Congress for Progressive Change (CPC): 6

Others: 5

The results for the House of Representatives are broadly similar, except that so far the ANPP has no seats.

Looking at the results, a few questions come to mind:

  1. Are we seeing an intensification of “regionalization”? Throughout postcolonial Nigerian history, major parties have tended to have strong regional bases. Since 1999, the PDP has enjoyed national dominance, though regional politics certainly continued. What observers are calling a freer vote than past elections, though, may be allowing underlying regional divisions to emerge more starkly: thus the ACN’s gains are concentrated in the South West, its stronghold, while the Northern-based ANPP and CPC are winning seats in the North. Going forward, Nigeria could see regional rivalries become more open.
  2. Are we seeing the popularity of “progressive” politics? The ACN’s victories may represent a form of regionalism, but they may also reflect the popularity of ACN’s celebrity Governor Babatunde Fashola. Fashola has made a number of reforms in Lagos State. The ACN also generated excitement by nominating former anti-corruption official Nuhu Ribadu as its presidential candidate (though note that this article says Fashola outshines Ribadu). Of the opposition parties, the ACN has won the most seats in this election, but other parties are attempting to claim the progressive mantle as well – recall what CPC stands for. Opposition victories, then, may speak to a widespread desire for reform that to some extent transcends regionalism.
  3. Are we seeing triumphs of personality over party? Perhaps we miss part of the story if we look only at how the parties do: maybe individual politicians are winning based on their own skills, networks, and campaigns. After all, many expect President Goodluck Jonathan (PDP) to win re-election, and in fact to outperform his party, despite defeats for the PDP in the legislative races. The governors’ races should shed some more light on this question.

All of these are just hypotheses, and I hope commenters will let me know where logic or evidence refutes them.

As we puzzle over results, the presidential vote is fast approaching. Will the ACN and the CPC join forces in an effort to beat Jonathan? Will the elections go to a second round? This weekend promises to be exciting in Nigeria. Whoever wins, hopefully the elections will go smoothly and peacefully.

Nigeria: Preliminary Results from Legislative Elections

On Saturday, Nigerians in around 85% of the country voted in legislative elections. These elections had been delayed by one week following logistical problems on April 2, and those problems account for the delays that have continued to affect some 15% of the country.

Yesterday results started to come in from the districts that did vote, and the emerging pattern confirms what some analysts predicted, namely losses for the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP). A big beneficiary so far seems to be the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), which has swept much of the South West. The same analysts who predicted losses for the PDP in the legislative elections, however, have tended to predict that incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan will win re-election. The PDP may retain the presidency, then, but the party and the president will face a different political landscape.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves – let’s look at the results we have.

In terms of the integrity of the voting process, Saturday’s vote was not entirely smooth – bombs exploded in several areas, and opposition leaders in Bayelsa State are crying foul over the elections there – but observers largely praised the conduct of the elections. The EU’s Chief Observer stated, “We observed an overall encouraging conduct of the elections, in a generally peaceful atmosphere.” The general consensus so far seems to be that 2011 is an improvement over 2007.

With more faith in the process, Nigerians and international observers are showing more faith in the results. It’s worth paying attention to how the results are tabulated. A Nigerian friend here in Chicago has emphasized to me how intently opposition parties, from the leaders to the rank-and-file, will be observing the physical tabulation of votes. Having groups of voters and party officials present at the polling stations and having them insist on seeing and checking the official results, my friend says, will bring greater transparency to the count. Reuters notes this phenomenon as well, but also highlights the logistical difficulties of vote counting in remote areas, where in some cases results are collected by officials on horseback.

Now to the actual results. The best sources I’ve found are 234 Next’s live updates and the Nigeria Election Coalition’s results page. I quote from the latter:

Senatorial Elections

37 results have been gotten out of 94 senatorial districts. The analysis of the received results show that ACN has 13 seats (35.1%), APGA 1 seat (2.7%), CPC 3 seats (8.1%), LP 1 seat (2.7%), PDP 19 seats (51.4%)

Federal House Of Representatives Elections

76 results have been gotten out of 315 constituencies. The analysis of the received results show that ACCORD has 3 seats (3.9%), ACN 21 seats, (27.6%), APGA 2 seats (2.6%), CPC 5 seats (6.6%), LP 1 seat (1.3%), PDP 43 seats (56.6%), PPN 1 seat (1.3%).

The Coalition also has results by district.

Commentary on the elections is coming fast and furious. Helpful analyses of the results can be found at VOA, Bloomberg, and 234 Next. One thing many of these outlets stress is not only the pattern of the results and the strong showing for the opposition, but also the high profile of some defeated PDP members, such as the Speaker of the House.

Do opposition gains mean trouble for President Jonathan? The Financial Times writes, “The results are an indication of the public mood ahead of presidential polls next weekend.” That could worry Jonathan. On the other hand, praise for improvements in the electoral process is accruing to Jonathan in some segments of the Nigerian press. So the political signals are arguably mixed. In any case, presidents’ fates are not always completely tied to the performance of their parties.

My guide to the elections is here for readers who want more background, and below is a Euronews video on the vote counting:

Dr. Attahiru Jega, the Symbolic Face of Nigeria’s Elections

Dr. Attahiru Jega, chairman of Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), was born in 1957 in Kebbi State. In 1984 he obtained a Ph.D. in Political Science from Northwestern University, and afterwards occupied a variety of academic positions in Nigeria, most recently the vice-chancellorship at Bayero University Kano. Jega stepped into his current role with INEC last spring, and has become the main symbol of Nigeria’s elections. As with any symbol, people struggle to define what the symbol means.

In the context of Nigeria’s delayed elections, blaming or defending Jega has become a symbolic contest over the integrity of the elections themselves. For example, Northern Muslim elites I spoke with in Kano last summer frequently told me that Jega was their bellwhether for the legitimacy of the vote: if Jega resigned, they would know the elections were flawed; if he stayed, they would know the process was clean. Jega has also served to personify the work of Nigerian electoral reform for onlookers overseas: US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson recently called Jega “a person of integrity,” linking Jega’s personal reputation with the outcome of the entire electoral process.

Attaching such expectations and meanings to Jega’s actions magnifies the pressure he is under as an individual. Maggie Fick summarizes Jega’s predicament following the electoral delay:

Jega now finds himself between a rock and a hard place — if he resigns in the coming weeks (as was suggested by the Nigerian Human Rights Commission), he would be making a statement about the attempts of the political elite to discreetly undermine him, but he would forfeit the chance to attempt broader reforms within the electoral commission after the vote. Either way, the elections are coming, and it is clear that the consequences of the 2011 vote will not be inconsequential. Nigeria is a giant on the African continent: It is a diplomatic leader in regional crises from Libya to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and, most recently, the Ivory Coast. And, as Africa’s largest oil and gas producer, it’s the undeniable economic motor of the region. The outcome of these elections will set the tone for a whopping 27 votes set to take place on the continent this year. No wonder the International Crisis Group recently warned that if Nigeria’s elections do not “reverse the degeneration of the franchise since Nigeria returned to civilian rule in 1999,” the impact ill be felt locally and internationally.

There is a lot riding on these elections.

Pressure on Jega has increased – and the contest over his symbolic meaning has intensified – with recent calls from civil society groups and some opposition parties for his resignation. As rumors multiply, allegations are circulating that “powerful Nigerians” such as former President Olusegun Obasanjo have been maneuvering behind the scenes to oust Jega. Reports say that Jega nearly resigned during a “tempestuous meeting” on Saturday that pitted the INEC chairman against security officials who supposedly demanded – and were denied – a greater role in managing the elections.

Whatever the truth of such rumors, and whatever the content of Saturday’s meeting, the stories about Jega emphasize how he has become the focal point of competing claims about what is going on with the elections. The dominant view seems to portray Jega as the champion of the people against the machinations of elites, but counter-narratives are working to discredit Jega as weak, incompetent, or partisan.

The rumors and accusations have prompted public commentary by leaders from the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), including President Goodluck Jonathan. Former military leader and current presidential candidate General Muhammadu Buhari‘s spokesman has charged that Jonathan, the PDP, and pro-PDP agents within INEC “deliberately engineered the delay and non availability of the critical materials as an act of sabotage to discredit Jega,” and alleged that Jonathan was pressuring Jega to resign. In response, Jonathan has publicly proclaimed continued support for Jega. I would guess that Jonathan understands well that if Jega leaves now, it will not only damage the credibility of the elections, but also Jonathan’s reputation.

Nigerians will return to the polls Saturday. The world will be watching. And many people, inside and outside Nigeria, will be watching Jega – pinning hopes on him, scrutinizing his words and deeds, and pointing to him as a symbol of what is right or wrong with the elections, and with Nigeria. I do not envy him that position. Whatever happens now, I compliment him for having shown considerable grace under considerable pressure.