from Africa in Transition

“Hard for Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan Not To Run in 2015—But Can he Win?”

April 3, 2015

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Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

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That was the title of my December 20, 2013 post. It appeared in the aftermath of former president Olusegun Obasanjo’s highly critical letter to Jonathan cataloging the latter’s political failures, the publicizing of Central Bank Governor Lamido Sanusi’s accusation that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation had failed to remit billions of dollars to the federal treasury, and the defecting of many legislators from Jonathan’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC). Boko Haram attacks in the northeast were also escalating.

I cited three factors that precluded writing off Jonathan. They were the power of incumbency, his strong support in the Delta, and the uncertainty about whether the 2015 elections would be free and fair.

While acknowledging that there were many wild cards, at that time I thought Jonathan would prevail in 2015.

Of the three realities I cited in Jonathan’s favor, he retained the power of the incumbency in 2015. His PDP apparently far outspent the rival APC, though such is the lack of transparency about campaign spending in Nigeria, I doubt we will ever know by how much. He also retained his support in the Delta. But, the 2015 elections, against all reasonable expectations in 2013, were in fact relatively free and credible. More important, the results appear to have been accepted by most Nigerians, including Jonathan himself.

It is likely that Buhari won the most votes in the elections of 2003, 2007, and 2011. But, election rigging and dubious court judgments in election disputes precluded him becoming president.

In 2015, Buhari’s support was more widely spread geographically than in the past. He was no longer largely considered the candidate of the Muslim north. He carried most of the states in the West, the area around Lagos, as well as his traditional base of support in the north. But he also carried other states as well.

More generally, Buhari benefited from a groundswell against official corruption, the sense that the Jonathan government had failed to destroy Boko Haram, and a general feeling that the federal government had become largely incompetent. In addition, elite support for the PDP was no longer monolithic. These factors trumped incumbency and Jonathan’s support in the Delta.

More on:

Sub-Saharan Africa

Politics and Government

Nigeria

Elections and Voting

Terrorism and Counterterrorism

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