Once again, Nigerians are going to the polls for the 2015 general elections scheduled to hold on February 14, 21 and 28. This is yet another milestone for Nigeria that will be celebrating 16 years of uninterrupted democracy since 1999; that is if probable disruptions in these elections do not have the barrack boys running to Aso Rock1 to take over power. In fact, Nigeria’s political history is replete with several coup d’état that saw various military regimes in power for 30 years out of the 40 years of independence between 1960 and 1999.
Transition to civilian rule indeed?
The first civilian regime lasted from 1960 to 1966, when the first coup d’état took place within a context of mutual suspicion and allegations of marginalisation based on ethnicity and regional block. The military stayed in power until 1979 when the Second Republic was ushered in under President Shagari. This regime was overthrown in 1983 by no other person than Rtd Gen. Muhamadu Buhari, who now turns out to be the major contender to the presidency in 2015 elections. He was overthrown shortly afterwards by Rtd Gen. Ibrahim B. Babangida, who attempted a transition to a civilian regime in 1993. This move failed as the elections of June 12 1993, which were internationally acclaimed as the most credible elections that Nigeria had ever had, were annulled and an interim government led by Earnest Shonikan was put in charge. The interim government barely lasted for barely three months when General Sani Abacha overthrew it and stayed in power until his demise in 1998. His sudden death brought in General Adbusalami Abubakar, who over saw the transition to the current civilian regime in 1999, in less than one year of being in power.
Nevertheless, the spectre of the military regimes still hangs over the Fourth Republic. Some top ranked military personnel that served under previous military regimes reconverted to civilian politicians and are presently both within the spheres and corridors of political power in Nigeria. One may recall that President Obasanjo, who won in the transitional elections of 1999, was the military Head of State that handed over power to Shagari in 1979. Besides him, the present Senate President, Senator David Mark, is a retired top ranked army officer. Babangida is still politically active and is considered as one of the king makers of the present dispensation. Buhari is currently in the spot light as a major contender to the presidency, and is enjoying an overwhelming support from the North. It seems therefore that this very democratic dispensation is an extension of former military regimes. In fact, some have referred the 1999 Constitution as anything but civilian because of the military regime that brought it into being; and this in spite of various amendments that the National Assembly has made thereto. Though Nigeria has had two successive civilian presidents in this Fourth Republic, Yar’Adua and Jonathan, who were never in the military, can one unequivocally say then that the military have fully returned to the barracks?
Ethnic and regional factors
In all the military and civilian regimes, including the present dispensation, ethnic and regional factors have constantly played a major role in the extra-constitutional political arrangements between elites, with an overbearing effect on formal politics in Nigeria. Right before the independence, the relationship between northern and southern Nigeria was froth with ethnic antagonism, especially among the three dominant ethnic groups: Hausa-Fulani in the northern block, Igbo in the south-eastern block and Yoruba in the south-west. This ethnic cum regional rivalry characterises Nigerian politics, both during the military and the civilian regimes. To manage this rivalry and to ensure a power balance between the North (dominantly Muslim) and the South (dominantly Christian), the extra-constitutional principle of ‘Rotational presidency’ was introduced into Nigerian politics in the 90s2. The principle implies that if a president is from the North, his vice will be from the South; if he is a Christian, his vice will be a Muslim. As such, since the return to democracy in 1999 there has never been a North/North or South/South presidential/vice ticket; neither has there been a Christian/Christian or a Muslim/Muslim ticket. Any political party that violates this extra-constitutional principle is sure to incite the discontentment of the electorate, even before the elections.
The ‘Rotational presidency’ conundrum in 2015 elections
The effect of this unwritten rotational presidency resulted in the contestation of the propriety of President Jonathan’s candidacy in the 2015 polls. The northerners believe that after the two tenures (total of eight years) of President Obasanjo, a Southern Christian, the North was supposed to have its turn under President Yar’Adua. With the untimely departure of the latter to the great beyond in 2010 right in the middle of his first tenure, President Jonathan, his vice-president, took over in accordance with the Constitution. He later contested and won in 2011. There are rumours of a supposed agreement with northern elites that he would not contest in 2015. However, Jonathan and his supporters have debunked such allegations, saying that there was no such agreement (at least in writing)3. It is therefore not surprising that many northerners do not seem to look kindly at Jonathan’s desire to compete again in 2015, even from within his own political party, PDP. The problem with this dangerous sentimental attachment to parochial interest in politics is that those whose candidate does not win might resort to violence.4
Security and Economy: The two persuasive factors
With the forth coming elections, the stage is once again set for a show of power between the North and the South. Nevertheless, two major factors, among others, now influence this traditional political variable in the minds of the electorate: security and economy. The security challenges that the country is facing, especially in the north, has substantially assumed an international dimension. This has resulted in a sub-regional alliance between the Cameroonian, Chadian, Nigerian and Nigerien governments to combat Boko Haram, with the support of some Western countries.
The terrorist activities of Boko Haram in northern Nigeria has revealed the incapacity of the Nigerian government, through its armed forces, to guarantee the territorial integrity of the nation. This is an indictment on the sovereign status of Nigeria, one of the conditions of which is the ability of the government to effectively secure its territory against external and internal belligerent forces trying to undermine its control. With the increase in attacks on civilians, schools, religious gatherings, business entities, military formations, international concerns both within and on the peripheries of the Nigeria’s north-eastern borders since 2009, Nigerian voters have good reasons to doubt the present government’s commitment to their security. These attacks have had negative impacts on the North as a whole, ranging from cessation of schooling and business activities, to the mass exodus of people from the affected areas, thus creating one of the worst cases of internally displaced people in the history of Nigeria5. In fact, there have been calls from some quarters that elections be called off in the North-eastern States worst hit by Boko Haram insurgency, more so as international observers have stated emphatically that they cannot operate within those areas during 2015 elections6.
However, the security situation in the North seems to have overshadowed the incessant cases of ransom kidnapping in the South, which has made it extremely difficult for people to move about freely. Foreign governments, especially those from the West constantly discourage their citizens from venturing to Nigeria and its hinterlands except for unavoidable necessities, in which case extreme security measures have to be taken. Because of this, business activities and infrastructural development in the South have suffered serious setbacks. This may have a slowdown effect on Nigeria’s economy despite its rate of economic growth, which is placed at an average of 7% per annum for about five years now.
This brings us to the second variable: the fragility of the economy of Nigeria. The country presently has an ostensibly high rate of unemployment and non-distribution of the available resources in the face of a dwindling income from oil rent. Since the middle of 2014, the dramatic fall in oil price across the globe has grievously put to test the shallow grounds upon which the Nigerian economy is founded. With its overdependence on oil, successive Nigerian governments have neglected to diversify the economy and to develop the infrastructure necessary to drive the private and the informal sectors, which constitute over 80% of Nigerian workforce. With oil price free fall from over 100$ to less than 45$ per barrel in less than a year, Nigerian government is making a very frantic effort to diversify its economy. Though the recent growth rates have been driven by non-oil sectors, their overall contribution to the economy is insufficient to cater for the needs of the teeming population outside the civil service and the organised private sectors. The sum of it all is the relatively slow pace of all round development of both human and economic capitals in Nigeria.
The opposition, led by All Progressive Congress (APC), is cashing in on the rhetoric of infrastructural underdevelopment and non-distribution of the nation’s wealth in order to win the votes of youths and business men. Their strategy consists in pointing out with as much intensity as possible the loopholes in the execution of the Transformation Agenda of President Jonathan. This agenda was supposed to pave the way for sustainable infrastructural, human capital and economic development. However, the slow rate of development, especially in the areas of tertiary education, employment, electricity supply and transportation infrastructure projects, leave much to be desired. The opposition is therefore capitalising on this to woo the electorate, saying that since the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) got into power in 1999, they have been peddling elusive dreams to the masses.
Now, it should be noted that the chances of PDP having a landslide victory as it used to, are presently very slim. The reason is that four former major opposition parties – the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP), and a faction of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) –, who were incapable of fighting PDP’s hegemony individually during the previous elections, merged in February 2013 to form All Progressive Congress (APC). Since then, PDP has lost many of its members, including Governors and legislators of both the National and States Houses of Assembly7. 2015 general elections now promise to be a more balanced election between the two major contenders, President Jonathan of PDP and Rtd Gen. Buhari of the APC. The candidates of the other smaller political parties are not making the headlines in the media. Some of them have decided to adopt either of the two major contenders as their presidential candidates. It may be argued that those that insisted on fielding a candidate, even when they are certainly going to lose, may be doing so for the sake of their personal profile.
Whatever be their reasons and the outcome in February, these elections are certainly going to be full of excitement, both in terms of political manoeuvers and in terms of the future of Nigeria’s democracy. It will certainly offer quite an interesting subject of analysis on democracy in Africa and the strategies of political parties straddling between primordial identities, nationalist outlook and developmental demands of the present age.
Dr. Ndubueze Nkume-Okorie, Esq.
LAM-Sciences Po Bordeaux, France
Alliance Française Owerri, Nigeria
- The presidential villa.
- Ndubueze Nkume-Okorie, ‘Rotation and Zoning: Extra-constitutional frameworks for Nigeria’s stability’ in Consultancy Africa Intelligence (CAI), Elections & Democracy Discussion papers, 6 February 2014.
- ‘President: I never said I woudn’t contest 201 elections’, Punch Newspaper, online edition, September 30, 2013.
- ‘Nigeria’s Dangerous 2015 Elections: Limiting the Violence’, Crisis Group Africa Report, N°220, 21 November 2014.
- ‘We have 981, 416 internally displaced persons in Nigeria – FG’, Vanguard Newspaper, online edition, January 21, 2015.
- ‘Ekhomu calls for postponement of elections in North-East’ Vanguard Newspaper, online edition, January 31, 2015.
- Ndubueze Nkume-Okorie, ‘A kingdom divided: The fragility of the PDP’s political hegemony in Nigeria’ in Consultancy Africa Intelligence (CAI), Elections & Democracy Discussion papers, 19 March 2014.