This is a guest post by Emily Mellgard. Emily is a researcher for the Tony Blair Faith Foundation working on their online resource religionandgeopolitics.org in London, England, and a former research associate for the CFR Africa program. Emily recently returned from Nigeria. All opinions expressed are her own.
As Nigeria’s postponed national elections approach it is worth looking at what has occurred in the space provided by the postponement and at the military’s campaign against Boko Haram.
Among Nigerians there is a pervasive opinion across the country that the elections must now go ahead, and that they must proceed peacefully. They understand the process will not be easy, but that it is the only democratic option. These elections are seen as a turning point, and indeed, many conversations begin with the acknowledgement that nothing is known until after the ballots are cast, counted, and the results announced. People fear a repeat of the violence that followed the 2011 elections and are determined to work against it. As such there are numerous online and social media campaigns across the country campaigning for free, fair, and nonviolent elections.
Meanwhile, the role of religion in the forthcoming elections seems to be limited. One anecdote that seems to capture the mood says, “Nigeria is a car going uphill with a flat battery. We are all passengers. We all have to get out and push. We have all become pushers.” Violence, if and when it occurs, will likely be between the APC and PDP, not between Muslims and Christians.
The inviolability of a sovereign Nigeria also appears to continue to be accepted. This is especially the case in the north. Nigerians recognize that for the north to defeat and recover from the ravages of Boko Haram, resources and oil revenue from the south will be crucial. In areas less affected by insecurity, such resources are needed to develop a sustainable economy, infrastructure, and education systems.
Despite the recent military success against Boko Haram, it is still recognized that the group cannot be defeated in the six weeks provided by the postponement. If the group finds itself pressured by overwhelming force, it will likely go underground and continue a guerrilla campaign against soft targets, such as markets and places of worship. (Following the 2009 murder of Muhammad Yusuf, Boko Haram’s founder, the group went underground and re-emerged in 2010 to launch their current offensive.) While most Nigerians are optimistic about the current military successes, they question the failures of the Nigerian government that made the ongoing operations of the Multinational Joint Task Force necessary.
Against this difficult backdrop, international observers will be closely watching as Nigerians go to the polls this Saturday. For their part, Nigerians continue to have faith in their democracy. They are determined that their vote should matter, that they will hold their politicians to account, and that the people will determine Nigeria’s next president.