Symposium on Religious Conflict in Nigeria: Session 1: Religion and the Nigeria Elections

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

This is part of the Religion and Foreign Policy Symposia Series, which is made possible by the generous support of the Henry Luce Foundation.

This is part of the Religion and Foreign Policy Symposia Series, which is made possible by the generous support of the Henry Luce Foundation.


MR. MEAD:  All right, if I could have everybody's attention, I'd like to welcome you.  We expect some more people to join us during the morning, but we might as well get started now.  The council has a very strict policy of trying to keep to its published timetables.

I welcome you to a symposium on religious conflict in Nigeria.  My name is Walter Mead.  I'll be the presider at this first session, and then I will see you again as a participant on a panel later in the morning.

Nigeria stands at the intersection of two important trends in American foreign policy.  One is the rising importance of Africa.  The other is the rising importance of religious issues and questions.

In Nigeria we can see many of the forces leading to the rise in the importance of Africa.  Nigeria is an important and growing source of oil and energy imports to the United States.  It plays a significant regional role in a very oil-rich part of the continent.  It presents very complex and important challenges from the standpoint of global health.

The future of Nigeria, which includes something like 20 to 25 percent of the total population of sub-Saharan Africa, will be vital to the development of Africa as a whole.

Religion has always been important in Nigeria and in Nigerian politics.  The basic structure of the country since colonial times has been shaped by a division into a northern region, which is heavily influenced by Islam, and a southern region, where Christianity is more influential.

Since independence, this division has become somewhat more important.  Both Christianity and Islam have gained adherents in Nigeria during the last half-century, with Christianity posting the strongest gains.

In 1950, about 21 percent of Nigerians were Christian.  Today about 48 percent of Nigerians identify with this religion.  Over the same period, the percentage identifying with Islam has also grown, but less dramatically, from about 45 percent of the population in 1950 to a little over 50 percent of the population today.

The shift has come largely through the conversion of people from traditional African religions to one of the two great monotheistic faiths, although there are significant though smaller elements of conversion between the two monotheistic faiths.  For example, about 2 percent of Nigerian Pentecostals today identify themselves as having converted from Islam.

The relationship between religion and political developments in Nigeria is not always obvious.  There have been serious incidents of violence between Christians and Muslims in the country.  Some of these are related to longstanding tensions between ethnic groups and between pastoral peoples and more settled farmers and urban residents.

Others reflect new tensions caused by the movement of populations outside their traditional homes as people from the north move to the south, people from the south move to the north.  So there's a mixing rather than a homogeneity that people had grown accustomed to.

Other outbreaks reflect wider events.  Riots in Nigeria following the publication of the caricatures of the prophet Muhammad in Danish newspapers led to riots and killings both in the north and then revenge killings in the south, where many Muslims were killed by Christians responding to the news of Muslim riots in northern Nigeria.

Nigerian Christians, according to international poling, have significantly more favorable views of the United States than Nigerian Muslims.  The same thing, by the way, is true of Israel.  Many areas of mixed population, especially in the central part of the country, are in state governments that are particularly poorly governed, and that is an issue we may be revisiting today.

According to some sources, Nigerian officials have estimated deaths of religious violence in Nigeria at up to 50,000 people since the mid-1990s.  The Guardian newspaper, the British newspaper, uses a figure of 60,000 deaths since 2001.  But there's obviously a certain amount of uncertainty to all of these estimates.

But these reports of violence are only part of a much more complex story.  Nigeria is politically founded on a compromise between a predominantly Muslim north and predominantly Christian south, and one must never forget this, that interfaith cooperation and compromise is a cornerstone of the Nigerian state and a modern Nigeria.

The power-sharing agreement under which the leadership shifts from north to south is still very influential.  The outgoing president is a Christian.  The incoming president or president-elect, or, as some Democrats said in this country in 2000, the president-select, is a northern Muslim.  And the vice president-select is a Christian.  So the old pattern continues.

As Nigerian society changes and as the political and religious orientations of the two great faith communities in the country evolve, that political compromise is facing new challenges and tests.  Oil wealth, which has brought hundreds of billions of dollars into this impoverished country, has both exacerbated regional tensions but also lubricated tensions between north and south.

This oil wealth, this large flow of money through political institutions, has reflected the historic compromise.  But many of the tensions, particularly in the Niger Delta that one sees, are the results of this compromise.

The chief grievance of those fighting in the delta, the diversion of oil resources, involves a vital element of that great compromise.  And while the violence in the delta is not itself religiously motivated, you can't understand both those troubles and the prospects for stability in the delta without addressing some of these very important issues of Nigerian identity and north-south and interfaith relations.

Today we've brought together some of the world's leading experts on Nigeria to talk about the country in the context of the recent and rather troubling elections.  We hope that these panels will provide some insight into developments in one of the most important countries in the world.

The first panel will discuss the recent elections and their implications for the future of the country, the stability of the oil-producing areas and the relations between the religious groups.

The second panel will look at developments inside the two leading faith communities in Nigeria.  And the third panel will try to, I suppose, provide a synthesis of the various themes that we've been talking about in the morning.

The first two panels are on the record.  The third panel will be under normal council non-attribution rules.  And at the start of that final session, we'll make a clearer statement about what these rules are.

This is the first in a series of symposia in which the council will be trying to integrate the study of religion into the study of other important world political issues.  We in the council will also, over the next year or two, be consulting rather broadly with religious leaders around the world as we try to think through how the Council on Foreign Relations can contribute to the integration of the study of religion into world politics, international relations and the other kind of policy work that we do.

And besides thanking our speakers and all those who are in attendance today, the meetings department at the council, the communications department, which has done such terrific work in bringing us all together, I'd like to thank my colleague, Tim Shaw, who has recently joined the council as an adjunct senior fellow in religion and foreign policy.  I'd also like to thank the Henry Luce Foundation, which is very generously underwriting this series of symposia.

So now let me ask you to turn off your cell phones and pagers and any other fancy electronic equipment that you may have with you.

Our two speakers at this first session, Peter Lewis and Rotimi Suberu, are distinguished scholars.  Both of them are deeply versed in the study of Nigeria.  Their biographies are in the booklet that you have received on the council describing our symposium, so I'm not going to waste everyone's time by repeating those.  But it's worth noting that Peter Lewis is the director of African studies at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, and Rotimi Suberu is a senior fellow at the United States Institute of Peace and a long-time student of Nigeria.

So what we'll do in this session this morning is, during the first part of the session, we on the panel will engage in a discussion, and I'll be asking some questions of our panelists.  Then we'll turn to Q&A for the rest of the session.

Again, both your questions and your answers are on the record this morning.  Please be aware of that.  And this event, the first two panels are being webcast as well as the audience that we have here.  So I'd like to, by the way, welcome and say hello to the folks that are watching this over the Web.

Well, I'd like to start by asking Rotimi and Peter to give us kind of their general overview of the elections in Nigeria and what you think this means, and then we'll try to drill down a little bit.

Rotimi, do you want to start?

MR. SUBERU:  Okay.  Thank you very much.

I think the chaotic and corrupt conduct of the elections, which has been universally acknowledged, has reinforced Nigeria's image as the (crippled giant ?) of Africa, what Sela (sp), you know, the famous physician, calls BBC, you know, the big blind country, because other African countries have been able to conduct, you know, free and fair elections, and Nigeria seems to have failed in that regard.

The failure is a result of several factors.  The main ones include, you know, the political interference and the political manipulation of the government, the Obasanjo government, which ensured that there was no level playing field, then the logistical shortcomings and -- (inaudible) -- ineptitude of -- (inaudible) -- all of which created the environment for the irregularities and the violence that we saw during the elections.

Now, in spite of that failure, I think there are some positives that we can take away from that experience.  First, the elections have not produced the catastrophe that many people have predicted.  The day after the announcement of the presidential election results, I traveled by road from Plateau state to Oyo state, across about seven different states of the federation; you know, Kaduna, Nasarawa, Edo, Ondo.  And the country remains relatively peaceful.  And the reasons for this, you know, I'll try to highlight very briefly.

Secondly, for a country that is ethnically, regionally and religiously volatile and divided, I think it is significant that the elections have not led to any ethnic, regional or religious, large-scale religious conflict.  And this is because, as has been pointed out, you know, there was a kind of grand compromise, an informal power-sharing arrangement that more or less took out ethnic, regional and religious issues away from this contest.

Then I would like to say that in spite of the massive irregularities, you know, that characterized elections, some of the (results ?) are fairly credible.  And the NDI report has indicated -- (inaudible) -- monitored in Abuja.  And, you know, we had the checklist on the basis of which we should (assess ?) the elections.  With the (result sheets ?), we have president -- (inaudible) -- we have president, whether the electoral officials were at the polling booths by 10:00.  And surprisingly, for Abuja, we found that, you know, more or less, you know, these conditions we have fulfilled.

We also found that, you know, Buhari, you know, was -- at least in one polling station we were, we observed -- (inaudible) -- Buhari was leading.  And the results for the FCT actually showed that Buhari won in the Federal Capital Territory.

And, you know, looking at a number of the states -- you know, you look at states like Bauchi, we had the NPP candidates; you know, the PDP -- (inaudible) -- administration; Zamfara, another ANPP state.  We had the governor, the outgoing governor, who led the -- (inaudible) -- movement actually endorsed the results.

Then you look at a state like Abia, Imo -- (inaudible) -- Lagos.  In fact, you know, Lagos, the commercial capital of the country, Abuja, the political capital, have been won by the opposition.  So there are some -- you know, in spite of the abuses and the flaws, you know, there is some credibility to that process.

And, you know, also I think, for the presidential election, many people recognize that although the margin of Yar'Adua's victory is obviously heavily inflated, there is some credibility to the fact that he, you know, was the most likely candidate to have won that election.

And so, you know, there is some credibility to the results, to some of the results, and I think to the presidential result in particular.  And this will explain why, in Nigeria today, you know, the opposition, even though it has been shortchanged, is still committed to peaceful and constitutional process, and the country is not in turmoil.

In terms of the prospects, very briefly, I think a lot depends on the ability of the judiciary to correct some of the abuses and irregularities that have taken place.  And it's encouraging that most of the opposition have decided -- you know, have taken their cases to the judiciary.  And I think a lot also depends on the leadership, the leadership of Yar'Adua, the extent to which he is able to recognize that these elections have been significantly flawed.

He has said that he's committed to improving the quality and the standards of Nigeria's elections.  I think the opposition and I think the international community should -- (inaudible) -- take him up on that and ensure that electoral reforms are introduced to create the basis for more credible elections.

Thank you very much.

MR. MEAD:  Thank you.

Peter, do you want to --

MR. LEWIS:  Well, Rotimi has given us a very good and very balanced overview.  And having been there as well, I largely concur with the balance in terms of seeing both flaws and some areas where the elections had a level of legitimacy and credibility.

Overall, however, I think it's important to emphasize what a travesty this electoral process was.  There were elections that were relatively orderly and relatively credible in perhaps one-third of the states.  But in two-thirds of the states the elections were characterized by violence, intimidation, fraud and corruption on a blatant and widespread scale.

These elections were worse than the 2003 elections, which were recognized to have been deeply flawed.  They were far worse than the 1999 elections.  They were much worse than the 1983 elections, which I had the privilege of watching.  And it leaves us only with the 1964-65 elections, which led to the collapse of Nigeria, to judge whether these elections were the worst in Nigeria's history.

Having said that, however, the content and the conduct of the elections were deeply flawed and illegitimate.  They will probably not yield the same type of catastrophic outcomes that the 1964-65 elections did, nor the 1983 elections.

And there are a couple of things to keep in mind.  As has been mentioned, but I think is worthy of emphasis, these elections were not about religion or ethnicity in any significant degree.  The pattern of informal power-sharing among Nigerian elites had already resolved the fundamental question of who was going to govern Nigeria.  Nigeria was going to be governed by a northern Muslim candidate.  There was complete consensus about that among all the leading parties.

The dissent from that consensus was really quite minor and on the margins among some elements in the southeast and the south-south.  But a ticket with a northern Muslim president and a vice president from the Niger Delta has been installed, and that certainly satisfies most of the power-sharing expectations among Nigerian elites and most of the expectations among the general public.

So in a direct sense, the flawed and illegitimate elections are not likely to influence Nigeria's many ethnic and regional fissures.  However, in an indirect sense, they could have very corrosive effects in this way.  And this pertains to the quality of governance.

These elections were not manipulated or rigged by a disciplined central ruling party, as we have seen in the past in places such as Mexico for many years.  This was a process that was loosely organized and loosely supervised at the center but in which local barons and local operatives really took a lot of initiative at the state level.  So this was not a centralized process of fixing the election run from the PDP in Abuja but rather a set of state operations and state initiatives.

And so the new president comes into a situation where he does not control his party, which is a rather ramshackle assemblage of patrimonial elements, and he does not necessarily control most of his governors, even those within his party, much less those in the opposition.

And so you have an unruly party system, an unruly federal system, where many of the key barons and godfathers and elites have both money and weaponry to assert their autonomy from Abuja.  And this is going to create a great many difficulties for governance.  And it is in those local circumstances with the states where you're likely to find the greatest accentuation of tensions among different groups.

We might dissent just slightly from the initial characterizations about the level of violence in Nigeria.  There have been a couple of government white papers that have used the figures of 50,000 or 60,000.  I think most observers on the ground believe this to be grossly exaggerated.  The numbers are bad enough as they are.

A careful count, which I've done with Human Rights Watch, shows about 13,000 to 14,000 deaths from ethnic and political violence that can be verified on the ground since 1999.  And that is a horrific toll in any event.  But we should be clear on the scope of this.  But many of these events have been localized brush fires among antagonists at the state and local level, and so that is why the problem of legitimacy and the problem of political authority become so salient in this next term, because there are so many areas of Nigeria where there's a great potential for polarization and violence.

MR. MEAD:  Let me ask you guys, speaking of the power-sharing arrangement, there is some question about the health of the president-elect.  And if something were to happen to him, he presumably would be -- the next in line would be the Christian vice president.  Would a development like that be likely to -- would the north accept that succession, if it should happen?

MR. SUBERU:  I think, you know, the positive thing about this power-sharing arrangement, that it's informal.  It's not written in the constitution.  Parties just look at the political environment and decide that the realities on the ground, you know, the need to accommodate different ethnic, regional and religious constituencies require that power should -- you know, that the president should come from a certain part of the country.  And, you know, this is beyond even the presidential position, the position of who would be the senate president, the speaker of the house.  And there's a lot of, you know, calculations that are normally predetermined.

So while the -- God forbid, if Yar'Adua dies, that will really complicate, you know, the power-sharing calculation.  The fact that this is an informal and very flexible process, you know, will make sure that, you know, whatever comes out of that can be also informally managed.

MR. LEWIS:  If the president were to be incapacitated, the question is how it would be received in the north.  And I think, predictably, many people in the north would say, "Okay, you had a balanced ticket and the president's health failed and he was incapacitated.  And then there's a constitutional process of succession, and why don't we then revisit the possibility of a northern candidate in 2011?"  And that would complicate matters, but you could imagine a fairly stable process.

Predictably also, it would be read in some quarters, probably a minority of areas, as a calculus on the part of the present administration to deliberately nominate a person whose health was likely to fail, so that they could continue the reign of southerners and Christians over Nigeria.

And so it could prove divisive, but I think that the levels of antagonism or polarization and the levels of violence that would come from such a succession would be marginal and not central.

MR. MEAD:  You both have alluded to the possibility that the courts will play a role in resolving some of the more difficult state elections, though not probably at the federal level.  Would you like to kind of expand on that view?

MR. LEWIS:  The courts have been really one of the standout features of this whole sorry spectacle during this election.  And, in fact, while the administration and organization and conduct of the elections was a fiasco, there have been a number of very laudable and commendable signs on the political landscape that give us some sense of hope and some sense of confidence about a continuation of democracy in Nigeria, a very vibrant civil society which has acted as a vigorous watchdog, an extremely well-mobilized and active independent media.

In addition to the international observers who were on the ground, at least four or five major national dailies fielded armies of reporters who reported very promptly from every corner of the federation, virtually every state situation reports, and so forth.  And they operated in the most violent areas; in fact, areas where some international observers were afraid to go, such as the Niger Delta.

And then there's the judiciary.  The judiciary has acted with professionalism, with competence, and consistent independence over the past months in ruling on a variety of initiatives that have come from the electoral commission and the presidency, often ruling against the government and the administration.  And they were also quite forward-looking and active in constituting election tribunals that were ready to go before election day rather than realizing, as they did in 2003, "Oh, an election has happened and there have been some grievances.  Maybe we had better constitute tribunals."

So the judiciary has been a real standout.  And if the judiciary could successfully and credibly resolve even a handful of the deeply flawed state elections and another handful of the very badly flawed national assembly elections, it might go a long way to restoring some general sense of confidence in the process, which has been badly battered by the recent events.

MR. MEAD:  Rotimi, do you --

MR. SUBERU:  Yes.  I just want -- you know, the independence that the judiciary has demonstrated is not just in resolving some of the political controversy but some of the issues that have been -- (inaudible) -- system, you know, the control of -- (inaudible) -- revenue allocation.  It's not accidental.  I think a serious effort -- I mean, one of the positive features of the current constitution is that a serious effort has been made to guarantee the independence and the integrity of the judiciary.

At the federal level, you know, there are several bodies that are responsible for the appointment of the judiciary.  The Federal Judiciary Service Commission actually dominates the judges.  The national -- what is called the National Judiciary Council, which is also responsible for the discipline of judges who have been found to be corrupt, you know, recommends the judges.

The president appoints, nominally, from the recommendations of the Judiciary Services Committee and the National Judiciary Committee.  And then, you know, the judges are finally ratified by the legislature.  So there is -- you know, an attempt has been made in the (constitution ?) to ensure that, you know, this institution is -- its independence is guaranteed.  It's not like the electoral commission, which is purely -- largely appointed by the president.

So, as Peter said, I think this is an institution, you know, that has been designed and that has actually worked in a way that has shown a lot of independence and integrity.

MR. MEAD:  I take your point that there will probably be some judicial oversight and perhaps even a reversal of some of the election returns.  That's likely to be a somewhat long and drawn-out process in some states.

What kind of impact would there be in terms of governor, someone who's elected governor, maybe takes office, but it's fairly clear that at some point he's going to be judicially removed or new elections would be ordered?  How does that impact the ability of the state government to run things during that period?

MR. LEWIS:  Well, the anecdote that everybody brings up at these moments is Anambra state, where, in 2003, there was a contested election.  There was a four-year term, of course, for the governor.  And after three years, the judicial tribunal overturned the result for the sitting governor, who by then had governed for three years, and he had to cede his place to the new guy, who had about a year to serve.

Anambra, not coincidentally, has been among the most politically contentious and violent and brutal states in the federation.  The scholar Will Reno (sp) has gone to Anambra and compared Anambra state -- if taken as a sovereign state, has compared it to the warlord situations in Sierra Leone and Liberia.  And that may be a bit provocative, but it's not so very far off the mark.

And so the link between electoral fraud and poor governance is very clear in many of the states, and it creates fundamental questions about order, about balance between different groups in the state, and about, you know, the viability of institutions.

MR. SUBERU:  Let me state that I think it's unfortunate, really, that we have to make these reports to the judiciary to overturn some of the fraudulent elections.  I think, you know, obviously the ideal thing would have been that the judiciary is not brought into this responsibility and that the process is far more transparent, the electoral process itself, and electoral administration is far more transparent than it is.

But I think, from the experience that Peter has talked about, there's also been a response from the judiciary to fast-track, you know, the process of a judicial oversight of the electoral process.  Hopefully, you know, some of the verdicts from the judiciary wouldn't be as delayed as the Anambra case.

MR. MEAD:  Okay.  Looking at the pattern of states where elections were more or less fraudulent, I have the sort of impression that in some of the central states, where there has been some of the stronger inter-ethnic or interfaith conflict, and again, in the Niger Delta, those were the areas where there were the most problems in the elections.  Would either of you care to comment on that or say some more about what those looked like?

MR. LEWIS:  Rotimi, you can -- you were looking at this.

MR. SUBERU:  Yeah, I was looking at -- you know, looking at the states where the elections, you know, were a bit more credible, what I've seen is that -- or the conclusion I've drawn is that in those cases the opposition was generally popular and that it was, you know, a bit more coordinated.  You know, that's the pattern I've seen.

You know, it was genuinely popular, like in Bauchi state, with -- (inaudible) -- former federal minister.  And it was coordinated like (legal ?).  So that is the pattern I've seen, that where the opposition is genuinely popular and it's coordinated, you know, able to neutralize, so to say, the (region machinery ?) of the PDP, you've had some fairly credible -- (inaudible).

MR. LEWIS:  But one of the achievements of Nigeria over the last 15 to 20 years has been the ability to really eliminate sectional voting from the political landscape.  There have been a number of factors, but the critical factor really is the election law and the constitutional foundations, which require a broad spread of votes.  You have to get 25 percent of the vote in two-thirds of the states, or 24 states, in order to pass the bar.  Even if you won a plurality or a majority, you also have to have that geographic spread.

There have also been efforts to craft the parties in particular ways, sometimes top down, sometimes bottom up.  But we really did not see in this election sectional parties.  And so the question of incumbents and opposition then does not turn in most states and in most areas on a confrontation between ethnic, regional or religious groups; yes, in some parts of western, southwestern Nigeria, there were different Yoruba-speaking communities who had traditional rivalries and who gravitated toward different political factions.  And those kinds of dynamics, subgroups and different communities, played out in different areas as well.  But those were infrequent and localized.

The worst election fraud consistently, and certainly in this election, occurred in the entire really southeastern portion of the country, the states of the Niger Delta and the Ibo-speaking southeast, which are much more ethnically -- well, the Ibo state's much more ethnically homogeneous, certainly religiously homogeneous.  and it had very little to do with communalism and everything to do with hegemony by a dominant party.

MR. MEAD:  What about at Plateau?  How did the election go there?

MR. SUBERU:  I mean, I was in Plateau state.  The only worrying thing I've seen in -- it seems the results were also fairly credible.  And quite significantly, Senator Ibrahim Mantu, the famous supporter of the -- (inaudible) -- actually lost.  You know, and people see this as one of the very reassuring things about that process, that somebody who was a leading member of the PDP could lose to the -- (inaudible) -- candidates in one of these (notorious ?) districts.

The worrying thing that I've seen about Plateau state is that the PDP ticket consisted of -- you know, it's a Christian ticket.  You know, the governor-elect is a Christian.  The deputy governor-elect is also a Christian.  And the ANPP had a balanced ticket.  And, you know, many Muslims -- I find just, you know, many Muslims supported the ANPP ticket, and so you could see a clear religious tone to the politics in Plateau state.

So that's, you know, a place where one should watch out for, because I think the Muslims in Plateau state feel somewhat alienated that you have a PDP government that, you know, has not made any attempts to accommodate the restive Muslim minority there.

MR. LEWIS:  And Kwara and Lagos and Kaduna are other areas where you need to be concerned about how the election will be received, although these were not the areas where we heard the leading reports of just flat-out stolen elections on election day.

MR. MEAD:  The delta was by far and away the --

MR. LEWIS:  Well, I mean, they simply -- on the ground there was single-digit voter participation, and the returns showed 90 percent of voters going to the polls with a 90 percent margin for the ruling party.  They simply manufactured millions and millions of votes out of whole cloth.  Doing some crude forensic numbers, my back-of-the-envelope estimate is that the final results and Yar'Adua's vote total was inflated by 100 percent.

MR. MEAD:  Well, having lived in Louisiana -- (laughter) --

MR. LEWIS:  There you go.

MR. MEAD:  -- I have an understanding of some of these processes.

MR. LEWIS:  Well, they have many examples around the world to study, including here.

MR. MEAD:  All right.  Well, this has been a very helpful conversation.  I think it'd be useful now to turn it over to the audience for you to ask our panel questions.  And I'd ask you to wait till we get somebody with a microphone to you.  Remember, we have people not in the room who are listening in, and they can hear you if you talk into a microphone.  Also please identify yourself and your organization when you ask your question.

Yes, sir.

Q     Steve Lowe of the Foreign Affairs Museum Council.

I'm interested in the way in which Yar'Adua was selected.  Was this a personal thing of Obasanjo's?  And second, were there other northern Muslim leaders who might have been -- who were disappointed at being overlooked and might consider, in the event of sickness or incapacitation of Yar'Adua, might consider making an issue of the succession?

MR. LEWIS:  Well, I think this was a very personal selection.  There was no internal democracy within the ruling PDP.  The list of candidates as potential aspirants was really held close to the vest.  A number of names were bandied about.  People knew who the players were.  But this was -- this ticket was a surprise.  It came from the presidency.  It was passed in a nontransparent vote within a closed process in the PDP.

The speculation about why this particular ticket was chosen was that both Yar'Adua and Goodluck had a reputation for integrity and that they fulfilled Obasanjo's criteria of, one, wanting to continue his anticorruption campaign; two, being relatively compliant in carrying forward his agenda of economic reforms; and three, being relatively weak enough so that he could continue to play a role behind the scenes, which is why a reclusive, largely unknown northern governor, who was known to have serious health problems, was a quizzical choice for many Nigerians, particularly when there were other high-profile and quite able governors -- Governor Mu'azu of Bauchi state, Governor McCarthy (sp) of Kaduna state, and other names that were passed around that were higher-profile and could have played a role.

Incidentally, many of those people quickly appeared within the last week on a list that Obasanjo drew up and handed to Yar'Adua to create his next cabinet.  So Obasanjo clearly hopes to play an important role.  We will see what happens.  Yar'Adua is clearly stepping -- already stepping out of the shadows and trying to assert his own stance and his own personality.

But the personal politics of presidential succession and designated successors and so forth played a very important role here.  And there are other people who are disappointed and perhaps even angry that they lost out, but it seems they're already being brought into the process in the next cabinet.

MR. MEAD:  Yes, ma'am.

Q     Mora McLean, the Africa-America Institute.

Given that, based on your remarks, on the whole this informal religious accommodation worked and that, apart from Plateau, the place where there were the greatest problems in the predominantly Christian southeast, what are your reflections on the possibility of religious accommodation among Christians in that part of the country?  And do any of the -- the second question is, are there any -- is there any demographic analysis of how the vote broke down in terms of an age, gender, urban, rural, if you can draw that divide, those kinds of more refined analyses?

MR. MEAD:  Rotimi?

MR. SUBERU:  Well, in terms of Christian, you know, power-sharing, I think, you know, that has really not been an issue.  In the southeast, power-sharing is considered in terms of regional categories; you know, these being religiously homogeneous areas -- (inaudible) -- in terms of senatorial, you know, between the -- (inaudible) -- whether has been some kind of a condition.

As for the data you talked about, I think this has been one of the -- I think the primary responsibility for this will have been (IMEC ?), where, you know, I think, you know, this has been one of its major failings.  I was at the (IMEC ?) office and I asked for some basic data, and they -- and if you go to their website, you know, they don't -- it's really an inept organization.

But if I may, you know, I had a response to the question about Yar'Adua, which, you know, I hold a slightly -- and I think we've disclosed this -- I had a slightly different position on Yar'Adua and how -- (inaudible).  You know, one, a decision was taken -- since the decision was taken that they should go to the north, already the field was restricted.  It meant that front-line campaigners like Peter Odelee (ph) and like Dunal Duke (ph), you know, who enjoyed much appeal in the south, you know, were out of the way.

Secondly, this is a man who has a reputation for transparency and for honesty.  He doesn't have to declare his assets, you know, but on two occasions, in 1999 and 2003, you know, he declared his assets publicly.  And regarding, you know, what Peter said about other permanent candidates like Carl McCarthy (sp) and Mu'azu, I think the problem there was that in lots of the governors -- and I know, I think, from Mu'azu, they had problems with the EFCC.  The EFCC was investigating them.

And Yar'Adua was about, you know, one of the very few who didn't -- you know, who had this record of transparency.  And if he's incapacitated, if, unfortunately, he's incapacitated, I think in 2011 -- (inaudible) -- the viable northern candidates -- (inaudible) -- will have an opportunity to get a shot at the presidency.

MR. LEWIS:  Let me quickly chime in on numbers.  There's a book that some few people might remember back from the '60s called "Planning Without Facts" that was written about Nigeria's early economic planning experience.  This was an election without facts.  The numbers are pure fantasy.

However, there is a good deal of survey research going on, and there are polls from some of the newspapers and social research organizations in Nigeria and Afrobarometer, the Afrobarometer Research Network.  Those provide some pretty interesting and revealing numbers, because we did both pre- and post-election polling and you can ask people, "Did you vote?  Will you vote?  Who did you vote for?"  And we get -- those are national probability samples.  You get some fairly interesting numbers.

And so that's sort of another way of coming at the problem when you lack any credible numbers from either the census or the electoral administration.

MR. MEAD:  Okay.

Q     (Off mike.)

MR. LEWIS:  Well, I'm not quite sure what types of accommodation among Christians are needed, because I think that the differences between, say, Pentecostals and mainline Protestants and Catholics and so forth have been accommodated, actually, fairly well by those different elites.  And they're not identifiably a source of conflict.

Religion, except for the provocative person of Dokubo-Asari, who converted to Islam in the Niger Delta, religion is not an overt issue in the Niger Delta.  In fact, it's virtually invisible.  And so I think that that is not the central cleavage or the central identity question in the delta or in the east.

MR. MEAD:  Yes.

Q     Thank you.  I'm Darren Kew from the University of Massachusetts.

Peter, following up on the point you just left off with, with the opinion polls, maybe, I think one of the tragedies of the election was it seems like the opinion polls were suggesting that Yar'Adua actually had a strong chance at winning in a legitimate election, although many of those polls were taken in a context when the vice president very clearly was being kept from running, and people responding to the polls knew that.  But still, that was one important outcome that was lost.

But, that said, there was a strong -- and there still is, it seems to me -- a strong undercurrent keeping things more peaceful at this point is that there was a strong hope among people that Obasanjo would simply go; the Afrobarometer polls last year showing 84 percent against a third term.  And my understanding, from what I've been hearing, is that's a very strong thing that's keeping people indoors in terms of not wanting to upset the apple cart, so to speak, and to make sure that Obasanjo has no excuses to stick around and so that Yar'Adua can take over in that context.

My question is, within these sort of deeply flawed elections, do you see Yar'Adua as having any sort of honeymoon period after the elections to actually undertake some sort of bold policy initiatives in order to build some credibility with the people?  But given what you said about his lack of control of the PDP, does he have the political strength in order to undertake the changes he so necessarily needs to follow in order to build this credibility that he doesn't have?

MR. LEWIS:  Well, okay, let me comment on the numbers and then Rotimi perhaps can talk about honeymoons and capacity.

On the numbers, yes, all the opinion polls led to a fairly consistent conclusion.  There were variations, and you can question the quality of the polls, but basically they showed that the PDP was leading with a plurality, as low as 33 percent, as high as 40 percent, but a clear geographical spread on the first ballot.

In other words, in a first ballot, the PDP would have won with the highest number of votes and the geographical spread.  Neither the ANPP nor the AC and Atiku's candidacy showed the necessary spread, nor did any of the polls really show them with the highest number of votes.  So this was an election which was very fraudulent, and unnecessarily so, which is sort of doubly tragic.

And I think that's true that perhaps the most decisive fact or the most decisive event in this election season was last May, when the assembly voted down the constitutional amendment to extend President Obasanjo for a third term, because for many Nigerians, that was a clear demonstration of the voice of the people and the workings, the effectiveness, of democratic institutions.

However, I think that there is a real deficit and a real problem now for Yar'Adua.  It seems that he will not have a domestic honeymoon.  He may have an international honeymoon.  But he takes office really in an atmosphere of resignation but cynicism.  Nobody truly believes that he was elected in any transparent way.  And then, for reasons that I mentioned at the outset -- federalism, lack of party discipline -- there are real questions about whether he can exert executive authority.

MR. SUBERU:  Yeah, I think -- well, I think, Darren, you're right in saying that -- (inaudible) -- current for the kind of stability we have in Nigeria today, the fact that there is going to be a civilian-to-civilian transition.  As for, you know, Yar'Adua's ability to respond to the kind of challenges, I think the only reference point we have is eight years as the governor of Katsina.

You know, I've never been to Katsina, but the impression there is that he was able to provide very responsible and accountable leadership.  And from what he's been saying so far, he's committed -- at least he's acknowledged that there is a need to improve the quality of the elections.

So I, you know, want to err on the side of optimism to say, you know -- (inaudible).

MR. MEAD:  Terry?

Q     Terrill Lautz, the Luce Foundation.

I wonder if either or both of you could comment on the implications of the election beyond Nigeria, particularly for other countries of Africa, at a time where democracy is widely contested.  What are your thoughts about how this is being interpreted beyond the borders?

MR. LEWIS:  I think, unfortunately, it's not a good moment for democracy in Africa.  Freedom House has shown basically flat-lined trends in Africa.  We had a surge of democratization at the beginning of the '90s, and there hasn't been a deepening in the countries that have made transitions.  And, in fact, there's been backsliding in a fair number of countries.  And that's always a concern.

The quality of democracy has not deepened in most of Africa's new democracies.  And unfortunately, I think Nigeria's elections only serve to reinforce the widespread perception that powerful executives and dominant ruling parties can sustain their incumbency, can play fast and loose with constitutional mechanisms, can use patronage and violence to sustain their incumbency.

And if they do it carefully enough, and particularly if they're important enough and they have resources, that the international community will look the other way and that domestically they can keep things in mind.  That's an unfortunate lesson to draw for, you know, this process of democratization, but unfortunately I think that's the lesson that many people will take away.

MR. MEAD:  Rotimi.

MR. SUBERU:  Well, you know, just in terms of the international community and the international implications of all this, I think one of the reassuring things about the elections has been the high-profile international monitoring which people like -- (inaudible) -- observed, the presence in the observing teams, and then the fact that the international monitors have gone beyond the previous diplomatic nuances and niceties to really bluntly acknowledge that this has been a deeply flawed process.

And I think that has had an important impact, because, one, it has put the government on the defensive.  You know, it's put the government, under (IMEC ?), on the defensive.  Then it has given some kind of consolation and reassurance to the opposition that the international community is willing to monitor, and not only monitor but, you know, to be critical, you know, of this process.  And I think, with this trend, it might contribute to making election rigging a bit more unattractive in the future.

MR. MEAD:  Tim.

Q     Tim Shaw, Council on Foreign Relations.

There were reports at the beginning of the presidential election process, or on the eve of the presidential election process, of a clash between security forces and some kind of Islamic group.  I wondered whether you could comment on the significance of that.  What kind of group was this?  Does this augur any kind of trend that's worth watching?

MR. SUBERU:  Well, you know, there has always been talk about Talibans and Shi'ites and so-called in Nigeria.  But the event you are referring to -- (inaudible) -- where a popular Muslim cleric was murdered.  And I think, you know, the Muslims there, especially those who belong to the fringe, you know, the non-establishment groups -- those are called by all kinds of names.  You know, they are called sometimes Shi'ites.  But I think their distinctive feature is that, you know, alienation from the political establishment and the religious establishment.  And so, in the reaction to that, they are attacked.

And, you know, one thing about that incident was that they were careful not to target, you know, Christians.  You know, their main target was, you know, the state, as amplified in the security forces.  And I think, as Peter (has often ?) said, you know, the more you have a decline in the legitimacy of government in Nigeria, the more you have all these crisis of governance, the more you enforce this fringe population of Islamists -- (inaudible) -- really challenge the authority of the state, which they tried to do in that incident.

MR. LEWIS:  This was not directly linked to the elections.  It was coincidental.  But, you know, Rotimi has said it well.  This is a quite small and marginal tendency in northern Nigeria and has not -- has targeted the state; has not generally targeted a strong Islamist movement.  There is not a strong Islamist movement, and Islamist groups have not generally targeted Christians, nor have they targeted foreign interests.

However, in a situation of weak governance, there certainly is the demographic that could be attracted to those kinds of appeals.  It hasn't happened.  There's no necessary reason to think that it will happen in a dramatic way.  But those factors cause us to be concerned.

MR. MEAD:  Okay, I think we've got a break now scheduled until 9:15, so I would like to thank our two panelists for a really very stimulating first session.  And they will be around during the rest of the day, so I hope you'll have a chance to ask them more questions.  And they may even be willing to answer questions during the break or in further conversation.

Thank you very much.  We'll see you back here at 9:15.  (Applause.)








Top Stories on CFR

United States

A group of more than one hundred countries has agreed on what would be a historic rewrite of global tax rules. Here’s what to know.

Demonstrations and Protests

Paul J. Angelo, fellow for Latin America Studies at CFR, and Carmen Sesin, Miami-based and NBCLatino reporter, sit down with James M. Lindsay to discuss the historic protests that swept across Cuba and around the globe.

Pharmaceuticals and Vaccines

Vaccines are a major public health success story, but the COVID-19 pandemic underscores the many challenges involved in getting a vaccine to everyone who needs it.