The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has dominated every single Nigerian presidential election since 1999. Using sophisticated forms of electoral rigging and relying on a relatively unified political class built on patronage, a PDP incumbent or his anointed successor has secured electoral victory at every turn. Such a scenario would all but ensure the re-election of Goodluck Jonathan in the February 14, 2015 elections.
But, that mold is broken. Under pressure from falling oil prices, a decline in the value of the national currency, the fall in values on the Nigerian stock exchange, the increasing success of the Boko Haram insurgency, and repeated episodes demonstrating that the Nigerian state can no longer provide security for its citizens have fractured agreements between the political elites that have run Nigeria for decades. Many elites also appear increasingly detached from the Nigerian people because of their association with corruption and poor governance.
Reflecting these new realities, there is anecdotal evidence that the All Progressives Congress (APC) and its presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, are generating exceptional excitement around the country, not merely with Buhari’s core constituency in the Muslim north. For example, a faction of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), based in an area that voted overwhelmingly for Jonathan in 2011, has endorsed Buhari. In a sign of the splintering of the elite consensus, former president Olusegun Obasanjo who anointed Jonathan in the first place, has stated that the president has “failed Nigeria.” Most of the leaders of the APC have been part of the PDP at one time or another. Yet at this time, some political elites are transferring their support to the APC in order to repudiate the behavior of the PDP.
Under these circumstances, it is critical that the February 14 elections be free, fair, and credible – and that Nigerians see them as so. The alternative is grim. Following failed judicial challenges to election results in the past, Buhari has said that he will not return to the courts to adjudicate election disputes. The secretary of the APC has said that in the event of a rigged Jonathan victory, his party will establish a “parallel government,” though it is unclear what shape that might take. The run up to the elections have included appeals to ethnic and religious identities, which carry the risk of unleashing forces difficult for anybody to control.
According to the Nigerian constitution and various electoral laws, the successful presidential candidate must win 50 percent of the votes plus one. In addition, he must win 25 percent of the votes in two-thirds of the states. Otherwise, there is a run-off between the top two vote winners one week later. This has never happened.
Nigerian law requires voters to be registered with permanent voter cards, and that they may vote only in their local government. Meeting these requirements will be a challenge. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has acknowledged a shortfall in the delivery of permanent voter cards. In Borno, for example, they have been delivered in only three of twenty-seven local government areas because of security issues. In other places, the reason for non-delivery is less clear. In addition, Nigerian refugees in Niger, Chad, and Cameroon are effectively disenfranchised. They number at least in the tens of thousands. More serious is the question of internally displaced persons, the estimated number of which reaches three million. Based on previous electoral behavior, the internally displaced, the majority of whom are from the north, are likely to have voted for Buhari. However, the INEC’s move to restore the registration of millions of voters removed last year from the electoral rolls is an encouraging sign.
Nevertheless, no matter what scenario unfolds, there are likely to be multiple grounds for challenging the credibility of the February 14 vote.