In an era of instant analysis too often driven by the superficialities of the twenty-four hour news cycle, Jean Herskovits has published a thoughtful, detailed op-ed on Nigeria only a few days away from national elections. Her perspective is that of an academic who is devoted to the development of African democracy and good governance and has been writing about Nigeria for forty-five years. Her op-ed is a must-read.
She observes that President Goodluck Jonathan and the ruling Peoples Democratic Party intends to remain in power in the face of Muhammadu Buhari’s credible challenge. But, she warns, “…if there is another postponement, a contrived disruption on election day that leads to an unconstitutional interim arrangement, or if the election results do not appear credible, Nigeria could erupt in violence.”
Professor Herskovits chronicles the remarkable shift in Nigerian politics since the 2011 elections. Then, Christians tended to support the Christian Jonathan, while Muslims supported the Muslim Buhari. But, in 2015, the religious and other conventional divides appear subsumed by disgust at escalating corruption, poor governance (including the failure to pay civil servant salaries), currency devaluation, and military humiliation. Under these circumstances, Buhari’s support is no longer confined to the northern half of the country or to Muslims.
I concur with her view that the postponement of the elections from February 14 to March 28 was primarily intended to facilitate the continuation of the PDP’s rule, rather than protecting the Nigerian people from the depredations of Boko Haram, which continues its horrific campaign of violence despite its loss of territory in the northeast. Indeed, the postponement has probably cost the Buhari campaign some of its earlier momentum, and I cannot predict the outcome of the balloting with confidence.
Regardless the result, it is vitally important that the elections be seen by Nigerians as credible. She calls on the Obama administration to insist that the Jonathan government retain the well-respected chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Attahiru Jega. She urges that the administration announce ahead of the polling that the United States will impose visa restrictions and target financial sanctions on those who interfere with the electoral process.
Nigeria is no longer the “giant of Africa,” a “beacon of democracy,” or the “most important strategic partner of the United States in Africa.” But, it could be all of those again. Credible elections with results generally accepted by Nigerians would be a giant step forward.