This month’s Presidential election in Nigeria, in which Mammadu Buhari defeated sitting President Good Jonathan, showed the best of what Nigeria can achieve. After his PDP party had been in office 16 years, Jonathan publicly conceded defeat to Buhari, offering to Nigerian a rare peaceful transition of Presidential power. Much of the world had been anticipating post-election violence in reaction to Buhari’s victory amid allegations of election fraud.
Not to detract from Nigeria’s accomplishment, but there were certainly conditions in place conducive to a non-violent concession of power. First, Nigerians tend to vote along ethnic lines, and Jonathan is an Ijaw, the fourth largest ethnic group in the country, and so there is not a critical mass of Ijaw voters to defend his rule. Second, Jonathan came to office in the first place because President Yar’Adua died in office, so some felt Jonathan lacked legitimacy as President to begin with (although he won his 2010 election, which included defeating Buhari). Third, Jonathan’s Presidency had upset the agreed upon alternating Presidencies between Christians and Muslims since he filled in for a Muslim President. Some northerners felt it was a Muslim’s turn to be in office. Buhari was already in office for 20 months in the 1980s as a military ruler, so his victory is certainly not a story of a new candidate coming out of nowhere and unseating an elected President peacefully, which would be a fair grander tale. Lastly, Buhari’s victory was clear, as he gained the votes of 21 states over Jonathan’s 15, demonstrating a clear and difficult-to-contest victory. Let’s hope the well wishes last until Buhari takes office on May 29.
Nigerians were supposed to go to the polls on Saturday for their Presidential election. However, the election was postponed by Jonathan’s ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to purportedly focus its attention on defeating Boko Haram. The election is now scheduled for March 28, but an extra six weeks hardly seems to be enough to time to help end religious terrorism in the North. Those critical of the postponement are right to point out that the PDP is just securing more time to rally campaign resources. The party was unprepared for the rise in popularity of the opposing candidate, former 1980’s ruler General Muhammadu Buhari, and his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Former President Obasanjo was incensed enough by the decision that he tore up his PDP membership card in public today. This was a major blow to the party since he has been one of their ardent supporters since the party took power 15 years ago. The PDP itself is now suffering from its misstep, as party leaders are obviously divided.
The largest tragedy of the postponement is that it is a symbolic win for Boko Haram. As an Islamic fundamentalist group, it is opposed to elections and the democratic system as a whole. Following through with the elections would have been the move necessary to show the group that democracies do no kowtow to terrorist threats. It is further troubling because through Nigerian’s postcolonial history of over a dozen military coups, postponement of elections has been part and parcel of leaders’ attempts to maintain power in the face of a potential defeat at the polls. Many of us had hoped that period had ended with the transition to “democracy” in 1999, but Jonathan’s move is a worrisome step back in that direction.