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.

Quick Guide to Nigeria’s Elections

Starting tomorrow, Nigeria will hold a series of three votes to choose members of the National Assembly (April 2), the president (April 9), and state governors and members of state assemblies (April 16). For Nigeria’s domestic politics and for the country’s international reputation, the integrity of the electoral process will be almost as important as the outcome itself. This post gives some basic information that will help non-specialists understand what they are seeing. For the history of elections in postcolonial Nigeria, see this timeline by Reuters.

Nigeria is home to over sixty political parties, but most commentary has focused on four parties: the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP), and the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). While the PDP dominates nationally, the other three have pronounced regional bases: the ACN in the South West, the ANPP in Kano State and the North East, and the CPC in the North West and parts of the North East.

Parliamentary elections tomorrow will select members of the Senate (109 seats, three for each of Nigeria’s 36 states and one for the Federal Capital Territory) and the House of Representatives (360 seats, apportioned in the states based on population). Senators and Representatives serve four-year terms, with Representatives limited to two terms (Senators may serve more). The ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) currently has a majority in both houses. The National Assembly’s website is here. I do not have a prediction, but some analysts forecast that the PDP will lose seats: Business Day examines the political map and comes to that conclusion in this article.

Presidential elections on April 9 will pit incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan against three main challengers: former anti-corruption official Nuhu Ribadu (ACN; home state: Adamawa), former military ruler General Muhammadu Buhari (CPC; home state: Kastina), and outgoing Kano State Governor Ibrahim Shekarau (ANPP; home state: Kano). If no candidate secures the requisite majority on April 9 (a majority of the votes in addition to at least one-quarter of the vote in at least two-thirds of the states), then the elections will go to a run-off. Polling, for what it is worth, has shown a lead for Jonathan. PDP leaders have expressed optimism that Jonathan will win the first round. Opposition candidates, however, hope to make major inroads into Jonathan’s share of the vote and potentially force a run-off. Here are profiles for Jonathan, Ribadu, Buhari, and Shekarau.

Gubernatorial and state elections on April 16 will determine which parties control Nigeria’s 36 states. Currently, according to what I can determine, the PDP has 26 governorships, the ACN 4, the ANPP 3, and other parties 3. The CPC, formed after the 2007 elections, does not hold state or local seats now, but the balance in the states could shift toward the opposition parties, including the CPC. That picture would accord with analysts’ predictions that Jonathan will win the presidential election but that the PDP will lose some seats nationally and in the states.

As I wrote above, the integrity of the elections will matter a great deal. The last elections, held in 2007, provoked worldwide outcry due to violence and allegations of massive fraud (more here and here). This time, world leaders, including the Obama administration, have placed pressure on Nigeria to ensure a safe and credible vote. Jonathan has entreated the entire nation to help keep the elections peaceful, and has paid special visits to religious leaders to enlist their aid in this effort. Nigerian troops are deploying to supervise the voting, a move that has been read on different sides of the political divide as either a positive measure or as a form of intimidation by the regime. Accusations of rigging are already sounding out, both from opposition parties and from the PDP. Still, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has won many voters’ trust and some international respect over the last year, and may play a strong part in minimizing problems.

I will be following the elections here and on Twitter, and there are a number of other sources you may find useful: Reuters Africa, BBC Africa, VOA Africa, 234 Next, Vanguard, and Amb. John Campbell’s blog. Let us know in the comments if you have questions, comments, predictions, or recommendations for sources.

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.