Campaigning Begins in Nigeria

Unofficial campaigning for April’s presidential elections in Nigeria began at least five months ago, when incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan announced his intention to run, but this week marked the start of official campaigning.

Following several extensions, Nigeria’s voter registration period ended yesterday. I was unable to locate current figures for registered voters, but last Thursday the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) said that 55 million voters (of 70 million eligible voters) had already registered. INEC predicted that the number would hit 62 million by the end of the registration period. As candidates begin to compete for the attention of those voters, many eyes are on Jonathan.

The President headed first to Nigeria’s Middle Belt, an area home to large numbers of both Christians and Muslims. The AP reports that he launched his campaign Monday in Lafia, capital of Nasarawa State (in the Middle Belt). Tuesday saw Jonathan in Ibadan, in Oyo State in Nigeria’s South West (outside the Middle Belt). Jonathan is scheduled to head to Minna, the capital of Niger State (in the Middle Belt), where he will campaign with Governor Muazu Babangida Aliyu.

These visits serve multiple purposes. For one thing, they project the power of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP). At each stop, Jonathan has appeared flanked by major PDP figures: former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Ibrahim Babangida, Jonathan’s Vice President Nnmadi Sambo, and various state officials. Second, the visits give Jonathan an opportunity to go on the offensive while staying in areas the PDP controls – in Ibadan, he called for the PDP to take Lagos from the opposition (note, though, that he did not go to Lagos to say this). Third, appearances in the Middle Belt offer Jonathan the chance to isolate his Northern rivals and prevent them from gaining support outside of the North. In the Middle Belt, Jonathan can also work to present his political and cultural credentials to (Northern) Hausa society as a whole: in Lafia, he “greeted the crowd…in the northern Hausa language and was flanked by his northern running mate, Nnmadi Sambo,” who is of course a Northerner.

This third factor – shoring up support in the Middle Belt and making inroads into the North – is potentially the most important for the logic of the early campaign. As VOA writes,

[Jonathan’s] candidacy disrupts an informal regional power-sharing deal that would have given the ruling-party nomination to a northern candidate.

This means Jonathan needs to do well in central states to offset what could be opposition from some northern voters. The president’s three main challengers are all from the north, which could split the vote there. Political observers say the opposition’s best chance of defeating the ruling party is forcing the vote to a second round where President Jonathan would face a single opponent, likely from the north.

A PDP spokesman objected to such framing, saying that the choice of Lafia as a launching point reflected the PDP’s status as a national party and was part of the natural rotation that the party does from cycle to cycle. I don’t see why concentrating on the Middle Belt can’t be both a means of emphasizing the PDP’s national status and an acknowledgment of political competition over divided areas, but it will be interesting to see where Jonathan goes next and how party officials explain the logic of his moves.

Africa Blog Roundup: Ouattara Teleconference, Nigeria, South Sudan, Somali Soccer, and More

I have restrained myself from rounding up links on Tunisia because that’s pretty far out of the geographical zone of this blog’s coverage. Many of the sites on the blogroll, however, such as The Moor Next Door and Foreign Policy’s Passport (and its Middle East Channel), provide excellent writing on Tunisia and the broader North African context.

With that said, here’s my roundup of Africa blog posts for the week:

Cote d’Ivoire: The Center for Strategic and International Studies hosted a live teleconference with Alassane Ouattara on Friday. Video and audio available at the link.

Nigeria: Elizabeth Dickinson comments on the outcome of Nigeria’s People’s Democracy Party (PDP)’s primary this week:

Many a pundit has rehashed the point of contention going into yesterday’s primary: The party’s gentleman’s agreement to rotate the office between north and south every eight years should have shoehorned a northerner into the candidacy this year — but Jonathan is from the south. So not surprisingly, Jonathan was up against a popular northern politician for the nomination, a former vice president, Atiku Abubakar. That Jonathan won is no small testament to the political lobbying he has done in recent weeks (but also likely to the fact that the man in power controls the party machinery). The numbers look pretty convincing — 2,736 delegates voted for Jonathan while just 807 voted for Abubakar.

Dig down at the state level, however, and you’ll see the rift — particularly in the country’s middle belt, where north and south meet (and where intercommunal violence has erupted in recent months). A good example is Bauchi state, where Jonathan won by a margin of 2 votes — 46 to 44. In northern Zamfara state, Jonathan won just one-tenth of Abubakar’s share.

Ambassador John Campbell writes on the violence in Jos, and Loomnie excerpts two further articles on the subject.

Sudan: Baobab looks at ongoing economic changes in Juba. Roving Bandit asks what comes next for South Sudan.

Somalia: At his new blog, James Dorsey writes about al Shabab’s decision to ban soccer.

AQIM: Jihadology has a statement from AQIM on the recent kidnapping of two French citizens in Niger.

And finally, check out zunguzungu‘s “Invented Communities in Africa and America.”

What are you reading today?

Nigeria: Goodluck Jonathan Wins PDP Primary

Incumbent Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, a member of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), won the PDP primary last night in Abuja. AFP has a nice summary of where things stand:

Jonathan, thrust into the presidency in May after the death of his predecessor, will now be favoured to win the April 9 election being viewed as one of the most important in the history of Africa’s most populous nation.

The ruling Peoples Democratic Party has won every presidential vote since Nigeria returned to civilian rule in 1999.

Jonathan’s primary victory also means he has upended an arrangement within the PDP that sees its candidates rotated between the north and south every two terms.

[…]Jonathan was expected to win the party primary, but he faced a challenge from ex-vice president Atiku Abubakar, who had the backing of a group of elite politicians from northern Nigeria.

In the end, Jonathan won handily with 2,736 votes compared to Abubakar’s 805.

I predict that Jonathan will win the general election.

What do you think about Jonathan’s primary victory? Were you there? What comes next for Nigeria?

Nigeria: Gubernatorial Politics Unfold Amidst Political Violence

Nigeria’s ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) will hold its national presidential primary on Thursday, but a lot of political action is also taking place at the state level. As governors around the country ran in primaries and special elections over the weekend, the PDP saw its dominance confirmed in many places but also experienced significant infighting. Meanwhile, political violence in different parts of the country continues to cast a shadow over preparations for the general elections in April.

One of the most high-profile gubernatorial races occurred Friday in Delta State, as former Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan (PDP) decisively won a re-run election. In November, a court removed Uduaghan from office over allegations of fraud stemming from the 2007 elections. Journalists called the re-run election a test both for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)’s credibility and for the PDP. INEC officials and President Goodluck Jonathan were satisfied with how things went in Delta State, though INEC noted some problems with voter rolls. Violence also occurred in the context of the campaigning.

Yesterday, the PDP held gubernatorial primaries for the 27 (of Nigeria’s 36) states it controls. Party switches, open races (because of term-limited governors), and internal power struggles contributed to an atmosphere of political excitement and, in some cases, real tension. As Nigeria’s Daily Independent described the day, “There were hardly surprises on Sunday in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Governorship primaries, as incumbents swept the tickets from Kaduna to Plateau to Bayelsa.” Yet, the report continues, the elections were “streaked with violence, the jumping of ship of one big fish in Adamawa, dispute in Ogun, and postponement in Oyo.” In Katsina State, disputes over the primaries left some PDP supporters threatening to defect to the new Congress for Progressive Change. Even before the primaries, political violence and party infighting in the states had become a serious concern for the PDP’s national leadership.

Political violence, in fact, has often accompanied this cycle’s campaigns and elections, whether it directly targets political partisans or just takes place alongside political contests. Christian-Muslim clashes continue in Jos, with an undercurrent of political discontent often pulling religious tension along with it. Shootings continue in northeastern Nigeria, at least some of them linked to the rebel group Boko Haram. And a battle broke out last week at a political rally in Bayelsa State in the South. Those are only some of the examples of violence.

As the PDP heads into its national primary, the trend is favoring the re-election of incumbents, which bodes well for President Jonathan. But incumbent candidates also face real challenges in the form of violence and dissent. We’ll see what happens Thursday, but more important may be what comes afterwards, and how the PDP’s presidential nominee builds consensus and enthusiasm within the ranks of his own party.

Nigeria Elections: Muhammadu Buhari Announces Presidential Run

General Muhammadu Buhari was military ruler of Nigeria from December 1983 to August 1985. The shortcomings of his administration, including a failure to resolve Nigeria’s economic and political problems, resulted in his ouster in a palace coup. But Buhari remains tremendously popular in much of the North. Among many elites and ordinary people I talked to in Kano last summer, Buhari enjoyed a reputation for personal integrity and incorruptibility. He ran as the presidential candidate of the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) in 2003 and 2007, officially receiving around 32% of the vote in 2003 and 18% in 2007 – though he mounted (unsuccessful) legal challenges to the results each time. Buhari quit the ANPP in January of this year, citing “fundamental and irreconcilable ideological differences between the leadership of the Party and myself,” and founded the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). On Thursday, Buhari declared that he will run for the presidency in 2011 against President Goodluck Jonathan (of the People’s Democratic Party or PDP) and other figures both inside and outside of the PDP, including former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and former military ruler Ibrahim Babangida (whose recent actions I analyzed here). In this post I look briefly at Buhari’s message and potential impact on the race.

Buhari’s announcement included both attacks on his opponents and ideas for the future of Nigeria. Here is a look at the former:

Describing the last 12 years of the country’s democratic experience under the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as a catalogue of betrayals and bungled opportunities, Buhari expressed his loss of faith in the nation’s judiciary, believing it had compromised and did not act independently in upholding the 2003 election of Olusegun Obasanjo and the 2007 election of Umaru Yar’Adua.

His words: “Our experiences at the polls are supported by credible reports from several independent, local and international observers and showed clearly that those elections were not transparent, credible, free or fair. Nor did they reflect the true will of the people.”

Recalling the judgment of the Supreme Court in the 2007 election, he said, “In the face of such overwhelming evidence to the contrary, it hardly conformed with the idea of justice and it creates the common feeling that the judiciary was not acting independently.

“This time, we are not going to court”, he said. “Democracy cannot survive if its operators refuse to play by the rules and those in authority continually conspire to subvert the system.

“Unfortunately, this country witnessed in 2003 and 2007 elections that were characterized by massive fraud, unprecedented in electoral exercises in this country.”

One could call this framing pessimistic – Buhari sounds as though he expects fraud to occur. And one could say that his words raise the stakes – Buhari sounds as though he feels this is Nigeria’s last chance to have a credible election. But if democratic politics in Nigeria cannot survive another flawed election, what is Buhari implying will come after?

At any rate, his criticism of the PDP is clear and harsh.

In terms of ideas for change, Buhari focused on the Niger Delta:

On the vexed issue of the Niger Delta crisis, he regretted that it has been allowed to turn into a full scale and sophisticated insurgency rather than the government proffering solutions to the grievances of the people of region.

According to him, “The situation has escalated from random vandalisation of pipelines, often dismissed as the work of hoodlums, to full scale sophisticated insurgency. They are well armed, have their website and established coherent communication network to both local and international media.”

Consequently, he said, “If elected as president, my promise is to engage the region’s people in dialogue. We intend to make genuine effort to tackle the problems of Niger Delta from the roots.

“The roots of the problems are corruption and the failure of the Nigerian elite to understand the grievances and deep-seated feeling of the people of Niger Delta.”

Talk of problems in the Niger Delta also, to state the obvious, reinforces Buhari’s message that the PDP is failing Nigeria.

Buhari also discussed security issues in the country as a whole:

Buhari promised to evolve an overall security effort involving the Police, armed forces, civil society, traditional authorities and the public, with a view to arresting the country’s rapid and palpable descent into anarchy.

“The main task of my government will be immediately to tackle rampant insecurity across the land because Nigerians do not feel secured in their homes,” Buhari said.

To achieve this, Buhari said recourse would be made to rural constabularies, neighbourhood watch and other forms of local and community based supervision, stressing that “deployment, remuneration and discipline would be examined and implemented in the context of their suitability to localities, culture zones, communities and traditions.”

Finally, he promised to tackle corruption.

Buhari has real support in the North, but he may lack the resources to translate that support into victory, especially if other Northerners like Babangida or other parties like the ANPP divide the Northern vote, or if some Northern governors line up behind Jonathan. At the announcement, Buhari appeared surrounded by elites, but some of the most prominent figures in attendance were former governors, not sitting ones. It is also not clear to me whether Buhari has substantial support outside of the North. Still, given the North-South tensions at play in this election and intensity of the support he does have, his candidacy will be a major factor in the race and after. Undoubtedly some of Buhari’s supporters share the general’s feeling that Nigerian democracy has reached a dangerous crossroads, and some of them may feel bitter and lasting disappointment if he loses for a third time. That bitterness could, in the event that Jonathan wins, severely undermine Jonathan’s legitimacy in the North.

Nigeria: Babangida to Leave PDP?

Ibrahim Babangida was military ruler of Nigeria from 1985 to 1993, and remains politically active. In 2007, Babangida considered running to be the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, but ultimately withdrew from the race, allowing the late President Umaru Yar’Adua to secure the PDP nomination and ultimately the presidency. During this cycle, Babangida (or “IBB,” as he is sometimes called) has also taken steps to run. A few weeks ago, the emergence of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar as the Northern “consensus candidate,” who will run for the PDP nomination against President Goodluck Jonathan (a Southerner), seemed to put an end to Babangida’s candidacy. Now, however, Babangida may leave the PDP, a decision that could complicate the electoral picture in Nigeria and widen the political split between North and South.

Babangida’s complaint to the PDP about North-South “zoning” issues is the source of speculation that he will quit the party. Here are his remarks:

The party’s constitution backs a “policy of rotation and zoning” of elective offices, which Babangida said means the presidency should alternate between the north and the Christian south. President Goodluck Jonathan, a southern Christian, has said he will seek re-election.

“If the party has become so helpless in the face of these gross violations of its own constitution by its officers and its highest elected representative, then many of us shall have no alternative but to reconsider our continued membership,” Babangida said in a letter to Okwesilieze Nwodo, chairman of the party.

It is not clear what Babangida will do, but the rumors of his potential departure from the PDP are drawing a lot of attention, so much so that Babangida’s team issued a denial that he will abandon the Northern consensus. Rumors are saying that the opposition All Nigerian People’s Party (ANPP) is courting Babangida.

In a further sign of intra-PDP tensions, the party’s National Legal Adviser fired back at Babangida over the zoning issue:

Chief Olusola Oke said: “Though he has not formally made the threat to the party, it will be petty for a man that has tasted power before as a head of state of this country to be seen as championing a sectional interest to the effect that he will abandon the PDP if a northerner failed to secure the presidential ticket of the party in the 2011 general elections.

“He is fully aware that the issue of zoning can only be determined at the national convention of the party; I wonder why he has decided to issue threats on the pages of the newspapers. I will not say that we are going to enlighten him; our first approach will be to convince him that this time around cannot be different from the other occasions.”

President Jonathan’s campaign reacted with even harsher language:

“Clutching at the straw of zoning seems attractive to a drowning man. But regional jingoism is unsuited for a man who once held the highest office in the land.

“IBB should learn to live with his changing political fortune and not further diminish himself by playing games which only political novices should play. If he wants to go to another party, he does not need to blackmail anyone to do so. He should just go. The PDP has taken a decision on zoning and rotation; IBB can either live with it or leave the party”.

This exchange interests me for two reasons, and prompts two questions.

First, if Babangida leaves the PDP and runs for the presidency on another ticket, that could split the North politically and damage Abubakar’s credibility as a consensus candidate within the PDP. A Babangida departure would probably diminish Abubakar’s chances of winning the nomination, and in the general election would siphon votes away from whatever Northern challenger looks strongest against Jonathan – for example, former President Muhammadu Buhari. My question: if Jonathan wins, how will a divided North feel about the election, and what consequences will that feeling have for national unity?

Second, the Jonathan campaign has confirmed its position – already implicit in his decision to run – that the North-South zoning issue should not determine who the PDP chooses as its presidential candidate. The tone of the Jonathan campaign’s reply to Babangida reflects the campaign’s confidence that it can win the argument about zoning and win the nomination for its candidate. Put differently, I do not think Jonathan fears either Babangida or Abubakar, and is willing to have major figures bolt from the party. My question: if Jonathan gets the PDP nomination, how much of his party will he keep together – and how much party unity does he need to prevail the general election?

We will have to stay tuned to see what Babangida does, but even his actions so far have raised a number of important issues for Nigeria.

Here is a CNN interview with Ibrahim Babangida from September, discussing Nigeria’s 1993 elections and his current candidacy:

Nigerian Courts Overturn Elections in Ekiti and Delta States

Nigeria’s national elections in 2007 were considered deeply flawed by most international observers. The contest was not an election, former US Ambassador John Campbell said afterward, but an “election-like event.” Observers alleged fraud not only in the presidential results, but also in the results of state elections around the country. The shadow of 2007 looms over next year’s elections, which President Goodluck Jonathan has promised will be free and fair.

Cases attempting to resolve allegations from 2007 have worked their way through Nigerian courts for the last three years. Two concluded in the last month, and in both instances courts overturned the elections of sitting governors from the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in favor of opposition challengers. These outcomes, the latest in a string of approximately a dozen overturned PDP victories, testify both to the problems Nigerian democracy has (how did the system deny seats to rightful winners for three years?) and to a potential for accountability in Nigeria that is rare in today’s world.

The first of the two cases occurred in Ekiti State in Nigeria’s south west. On October 15th, a court installed Kayode Fayemi of the Action Congress of Nigeria as governor, annulling the election of his rival Segun Oni of the PDP. As I said above, this is not the first time a court has overturned a gubernatorial election since 2007, but it is one of the most significant legal defeats for the PDP since President Jonathan took over earlier this year. For this reason, and because it comes so close to next year’s presidential election, Fayemi’s victory has special significance. Professor Richard Joseph explains:

[One] important sign that Jonathan’s promise of electoral fairness is being heeded was the October 15 decision of a panel of Appeals Court judges that Dr. Kayode Fayemi was the duly elected governor of Ekiti State in southwest Nigeria. Jonathan’s People’s Democratic Party had been responsible for invidious acts perpetrated to block Fayemi at every turn. Fayemi was promptly inaugurated as governor on October 16 to begin a four-year term, thereby joining “progressive” governors in two neighboring states, Ondo and Edo, who also “retrieved” their mandate thanks to judicial action. Some of the tendrils of developmental governance in Nigeria are acquiring sturdy roots and stalks.

The second of the two cases I am discussing here concluded just yesterday in Delta State, where a court “nullified the election of Delta state governor Emmanuel Uduaghan, a member of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) whose term had been due to end next May, and ordered a fresh vote within 90 days.” Uduaghan may win the re-run, as other ousted PDP governors have, but the nullification reinforces the message courts are sending: the law applies to all parties equally.

Many observers of these decisions have mixed, or even negative, feelings about them. Reuters in its articles on Ekiti and Delta emphasizes the doubts these rulings cast on the integrity of the 2007 elections and the potential credibility of the vote in 2011. An editorial in the Nigerian newspaper 234 Next argues that the election re-run in Delta could decrease, rather than increase, accountability:

By only now getting around to pronouncing on the legality of that election, after Mr. Uduaghan had occupied the post nearly all of the four years allowed by the constitution, proves the adage that justice delayed is most certainly justice denied.

Unlike in other states, such as Edo and, most recently, Ekiti, where other candidates were declared the rightful winners, Mr. Uduaghan is free to run for governor all over again, as if his three and a half years never happened. In effect, Mr. Uduaghan could quite possible preside over the affairs of that benighted state for three terms, for a total of 11 years and 6 months. Where is the justice?

These points are valid. But the nullifications still represent a remarkable and rare legal decision. Many electoral outcomes around the world are disputed every year; few are overturned by courts. In the United States, for example, when courts intervene in elections it is usually to settle them – typically in favor of the projected or announced winner – and not to overturn them. Rarer still is the idea that an election could be overturned long after it occurred. Tragic it may be that a rightful winner waits a long time to take his or her seat, but is it a bad thing that the door to a legal challenge can remain open for years?

The decisions in Ekiti and Delta States highlight the ongoing problems resulting from the 2007 elections in Nigeria. But they also suggest that an independent judiciary is attempting to hold politicians accountable, however long it may take.