Many African countries are holding elections in 2015. Of some 14 scheduled elections a few are predictably fraught with problems and may not be held at all. The most doubtful ones are Central African Republic and Mali – countries that have had serious political and violent crisis preceding their current fragile peace. In that vein, that Nigeria’s election was postponed and its certainty is still in dispute may expectedly raise questions about the country’s stability and how peaceful it is.
The first part of the article, before announcement of the postponement of elections in Nigeria from Feb. 14 (presidential) to March 28, looked into what the world thinks of the elections through comments, advice and analysis from various reports and media sources outside Nigeria. The article characterized the information as: first major election that shakes the dominant political Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) since 1999; the electoral contest is mainly between two major political parties – PDP and the All Progressives Congress (APC) key opposition; highly polarized electorate that has dug in its heels in the face of rising importance of faith and ethnicity, resulting in a divided nation; violence during electioneering and very likely potential for violence after results are known; questions on readiness, capacity, credibility of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC); democracy will shake the country to its roots but Nigeria will remain one; and huge presence of international observers and media.
In this second part, we shall review information and analysis that is available from announcement of postponement to date. The facts obtained can be sorted into: explanation of the reasons for postponement and speculations on unstated reasons; recurring violence and how it can deteriorate; deeper issues on nitty gritty of campaigns by leading contenders of the two dominant parties – General Muhammadu Buhari, who is a former President under military rule, and current President Goodluck Jonathan; visible importance of positions taken publicly by former President Olusegun Obasanjo and Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka; and speculations on degrading security and further possible postponement.
We shall take the issues one by one and delve into each briefly.
Immediately following the announcement of the postponement on February 7, reports stated that Boko Haram’s offensive and lack of readiness of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) were the main offiCIAL reasons behind the postponement decision. There was obvious reluctance among several analysts to accept the official reasons stated and allusions were made to decreasing popularity of the ruling PDP and government’s intention to arrest the losses. Some reports wondered how Boko Haram’s conquest could be reversed within the six-week period of postponement.
There was near total agreement that violence was going to accompany the election campaigns. Overwhelmingly, any further postponement was seen as a lighter that would ignite violence, which, in any case, could be a preferred scenario for those who would rather not have elections held anyway. The calls made by governments, institutions and persons to hold the elections as scheduled were reaffirmed in the interest of Nigeria and the world at large.
Some reports, mainly from the USA, went deeper into the nuts and bolts of electioneering by the PDP and APC. In explicit details, two top consulting firms of US Democratic political party were cited to have worked for the two parties in Nigeria. AKPD Message and Media, owned by David Axelrod a confidante and close associate of President Obama, worked for the APC whilst Joseph Trippi of The Potomac Square Group worked for PDP. Trippi is reputed to have worked on campaigns of UK's Tony Blair, George Papandreou of Greece, Italy’s Romano Prodi and President Jonathan’s last election. These advanced, expensive consulting firms claim capability to deliver results for their clients. The reports elaborated on the sharpness of messaging and use of multi-media outreach including the social media to canvass support of voters.
Jonathan’s public adverts featured students, new building projects, and generally a lot of Nigerians smiling and working and .Buhari’s campaign had an aggressive social media strategy that made “change” a persistent theme. The competing demand to get attention of voters is not likely to change voters’ inclination appreciably during the six-week postponement span.
Notably, a respected but usually conservative magazine, The Economist, has run series of reports on the elections, and their titles speak volumes – Nigerian politics: Bad luck for Nigeria; Nigeria’s election: The least awful; Nigeria's postponed election: A powder keg; Why Nigeria has such poor election choices; Nigeria: Grim reading. In the “Least Awful” article, the weekly explained why “a former dictator is a better choice than a failed president”. In the same vein, the liberal-leaning newspaper, The New York Times, titled its strongly worded editorial, “Nigeria’s Miserable Choices”. According to NYT, “That Mr. Buhari, who helped launch a coup against a democratically elected government in 1983 and ruled until late 1985, has emerged as potential winner is more of an indictment of Mr. Jonathan’s dismal rule than a recognition of the former military chief’s appeal.”
Looming increasingly large over the elections are two different personalities – former President Obasanjo and Nobel Laureate Soyinka. Both of these well known figures have ceaselessly commented on the elections and their views and positions are reported worldwide. Criticisms have also trailed their views, especially those of President Obasanjo.
The national elections, presidential and national assembly, are to hold on March 28, 2015; governorship and state assembly elections are to hold on April 11, 2015. It does appear that skepticism continues over the postponement and whilst INEC’s state of preparedness is an important item, the security angle looms larger as the primary obstacle. INEC’s ill-preparedness may be overcome within the time. The non-readiness of the military to provide security for the voting exercise in February, twinned with declared intention of government and military to suppress Boko Haram is “the elephant in the room” – an obvious difficulty that cannot be resolved easily. What will happen if the security situation does not change for the better within the postponement time?
Least reported are several ongoing court cases which decision can halt the leading presidential candidates General Buhari and President Jonathan, rumours of possible interim government arrangement to further delay elections, and suggestions of military intervention – all unpopular choices. With so much at stake, and yet such darkened skies, it is correct to say that the world will watch closely the coming elections.
Makinwa is a communication for leadership entrepreneur based in South Africa and Nigeria. Twitter: @bunmimakinwa