Nigeria’s 2015 General Elections
The following introduction was written by Dr. Nkwachukwu Orji.
Nigeria’s general elections will be held March 28, 2015, after a six-week postponement. Before the poll shift, there were doubts about the preparation of the electoral commission, the grave security threat posed by the Boko Haram insurgency, a keenly contested campaign by the newly emerged national opposition party, and the competing claims to the presidency by northern and southern politicians. These all raised fears that the elections, like previous ones, would be characterized by disputes and violence.
Indeed, the postponement of the 2015 elections confirmed the views that the election plans are essentially weak and that the elections will not proceed smoothly. Although the Nigerian Constitution and the Electoral Act allow the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to postpone elections, and to hold elections within a time frame of “not later than thirty days before the expiration of the term of office of the last holder of that office,”1 the shift may have already eroded confidence in the electoral process.
The election delay by the INEC was due to an advisory it received from the office of the National Security Adviser, which stated that “security could not be guaranteed during the proposed period in February for the general elections,”2 and that “the security services needed at least six weeks within which to conclude a major military operation against the insurgency in the northeast.”3 This delay, however, questions the independence of the Commission. It also clearly demonstrates that its capacity to manage the electoral process could be impinged by the actions of actors outside the electoral system.
In a context where elections have been historically marked by disputes, and where the dominant perception of the candidates and voters is that the electoral process is prone to political manipulation, changes in the rules—including the election schedule—could be a call for disputes and violence.
The articles in this special section of Kujenga Amani examine such critical questions as the main issues that might define the outcomes of Nigeria’s 2015 elections, the factors that might mitigate the outbreak of violence, and the fallout that may be expected after the vote. The articles see efficient management as central to the elections’ success.
For instance, Nkwachukwu Orji, in his piece on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), argues that recent reforms in the election governance framework provide the commission with the needed capacities to conduct credible elections. Yet, he notes the actions of other actors—including political parties, candidates, voters, security agencies, and the judiciary—may pose obstacles to conducting the vote peacefully. The piece argues that, since the INEC does not have full control over the actions of these actors, the hopes of credible and peaceful elections may be far-fetched.
One area in which the INEC’s limited control of the electoral process has been demonstrated is the process of candidate selection by the political parties. Ben Nwosu highlights in his article on internal party democracy the abuse of the democratic process in this regard, maintaining that the exclusionary strategies applied by top party cadres and financiers provide electors with an array of options but no real opportunity to choose. He also contends that the strategy aggravates party fractionalization and factionalization, posing a major threat to peaceful political contests in Nigeria.
Focusing on opposition politics, Nkolika E. Obianyo examines the recent party primaries and argues that failure to apply democratic principles in candidate selection has engendered serious discontents in the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), leading to rifts and defections from the party. Obianyo suggests that the All Progressive Congress (APC) appears to be the main beneficiary of these tensions, and that the opposition party’s relatively democratic primaries have positioned it as a credible alternative to the PDP.
One point that runs through all the contributions in this special section is the value of capable electoral management within and outside the parties. Writing on ethno-regional competition, women in politics, and the Boko Haram insurgency, respectively, Godwin Onuoha, Ayisha Osori, and Chris Kwaja all agree that good electoral management is central to conflict mitigation and voter mobilization. They argue that along with closer interparty competition, it increases the incentive for the full mobilization of women and other marginal groups.
Finally, the articles underscore the point that credible elections provide a strong basis for an anti-conflict advocacy that may help mitigate political disputes. In other words, tensions around the 2015 elections can be defused if various stakeholders see the outcome of the elections as free, fair, and valid.
Our respondents are:
Chris Kwaja, Lecturer and Researcher, Centre for Conflict Management and Peace Studies, University of Jos, Jos, Nigeria; and Visiting Research Fellow at the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Abuja, Nigeria
Ben Nwosu, Lecturer, Political Science, University of Nigeria, Nsukka; Nigerian scholar with research focus on civil society and comparative democratization
Nkolika E. Obianyo, Senior Lecturer, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Nigeria
Godwin Onuoha, African Research Fellow, Democracy, Governance and Service Delivery (DGSD) program of the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), Pretoria, South Africa; and Visiting Fellow, African Humanities Postdoctoral Research Associate, Center for African American Studies (CAAS), Princeton University
Nkwachukwu Orji, Research Fellow, Institute for Development Studies, University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus; and Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellow, Institute of African Affairs, German Institute of Global and Area Studies, Hamburg
Ayisha Osori, CEO, Nigerian Women Trust Fund; lawyer and writer; alumna of the University of Lagos, Harvard Law School, and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government
The Boko Haram Insurgency and the 2015 Elections: Is the End in Sight?
Acts of terror leading to the death and displacement of many people have brought the dreaded Boko Haram into sharp focus as the most radical Islamic movement in Nigeria’s history. Presently, only a little is known about the group’s structure and sources of funding and the extent of its network. The geostrategic implications of the Boko Haram insurgency, however, are creating considerable concern in Nigeria and across West Africa, and its cross-border attacks point to the group’s external reach and influence.
Boko Haram, a loosely affiliated group of insurgents, began its terrorist activities in 2009. Its goal is to violently impose radical Islamic beliefs on northern Nigeria. In the run up to the 2015 elections, the Boko Haram insurgency constitutes the most potent threat to their success. There are clear indications that Nigerian security forces have become overwhelmed by this threat, and that the government is moving toward a regime of “learn to live with it.”4 The situation poses a serious challenge to both the conduct of the 2015 elections and the stability of the post-2015 government.
The progress made so far in containing the Boko Haram insurgency is greatly inadequate. Efforts have focused on defeating the group militarily, while political engagement, economic development, and social provisioning have been largely neglected. Moreover, a long-term solution lies in the ability of the Nigerian state to invest in high-quality intelligence, and state response to terror will continue to be defective in its absence. Since the weaknesses associated with the preparedness against terror hinge largely on poor coordination among security agencies, gathering, interpretation, and response to intelligence should be properly structured among them based on their individual and collective expertise, with greater emphasis on building cooperation.Read More
Given the enormity of the challenge presented by Boko Haram, Nigeria has no choice but to either address or learn to live with it, as the insurgency is spreading and, sadly, it may continue to do so in years to come. If the current state of insecurity persists, the consequences may be catastrophic in terms of the cost in human lives, severe socioeconomic disruptions, and high risk to livelihoods.
Finally, the public perception of safety and security will contribute significantly to the success of the 2015 elections. As a result, the government must act urgently to weaken the capabilities of Boko Haram by, among other measures, disrupting the group’s financial infrastructure. While it is true the insurgency can still acquire money through robberies, donations by sponsors and sympathizers, and cybercrime, the disruption of its financial flow by agencies such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) will greatly reduce its ability to launch attacks.
Internal Party Democracy: Peering into Nigeria’s 2015 Elections
“Only amateurs steal elections on election day anymore.”5 This catchy statement weighs heavily on African elections. Its implication is that contemporary election rigging has transcended the direct rigging of votes. A more sophisticated approach is exclusion, which subtly undermines democratic free choice while still laying claim to electoral integrity.
As Nigeria comes to the threshold of the 2015 elections, conformity of the process with best practices presents a mixed bag of anxieties. Fears persist that votes are unlikely to count, and that the well-worn path of electoral fraud and violence will be taken. These fears are not entirely misplaced. Nevertheless, the complexities that may characterize the election will draw much from internal party processes associated with selecting the candidates. These processes should normally be subject to competitive elections among party members, but they are relegated instead to the preferences of party elites, who manipulate the results in favor of their preferred candidates.
The persistence of this style of candidate selection constitutes an important dynamic of electoral tension. In an atmosphere of continued exclusion and abuse of party procedures, it is logical to anticipate factionalism, party switching, and the coalition of parties driven less by shared ideology and more by the need of some powerful individuals to achieve power. The centralization of state resources and the enormous power of the president in deciding who gets what suggests the likelihood of a post-election reverse movement of decamped members to the ruling party. The consequence is that party democracy, an important element of liberal democracy, is bereft of free choice in Nigeria.
Exclusionary strategies applied by top party cadres and financiers in support of favored candidates is likely to be more intense in the 2015 elections than previously because of the possibility that improvements in electoral administration will pose challenges to the old patterns of vote rigging. In the end, electors may have an array of options without any real opportunity to choose.Read More
The endorsement of the candidacy of President Jonathan by the PDP has stirred demands by PDP senators for an automatic party ticket for their own re-election. This demand runs contrary to the interest of state governors, who wield substantial influence at the state level to determine who are finally chosen as the party’s candidates for senatorial elections. How the president responds to the demand for an automatic ticket is significant because, if he successfully supports the senators, he will have undermined both internal party democracy and the clout of the PDP governors who, apparently, will be expected to mobilize state delegates to vote in the presidential primaries. Whatever President Jonathan settles for, it will be a hard decision, because it verges on his ability to hold the PDP together and to win the 2015 election.
A major rallying point for aggrieved politicians is the All Progressives Congress (APC), which emerged recently as a formidable platform for contesting the dominance of the ruling PDP. With its apparent capacity to offer a realistic alternative, many politicians, including those elected on the platform of PDP, switched to the new party in anticipation of improving their chances for electoral success. Some returned to the PDP, however, after these hopes became dim. In the long run, the APC provides a fallback for those who may not win the ruling party’s nomination for the 2015 elections and can be expected to swarm into the main opposition party to seek it there. Gaining nomination in spite of late entry to the party would raise questions about the party’s adherence to democratic procedures of candidate selection.
In the end, losers in the APC’s primaries and the general elections are not unlikely to revert to the ruling party. Ultimately, the 2015 elections may not record significant direct rigging, but failure to follow established candidate selection processes will rob them of integrity.
The All Progressives Congress, Opposition Politics, and Nigeria’s 2015 Elections
In February 2013, four major opposition parties in Nigeria—the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), and a faction of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA)—merged into a new party, known as the All Progressives Congress (APC). Between November 2013 and January 2014, internal crisis in the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) led to the defection of five state governors, eleven senators, thirty-seven members of the House of Representatives, and several other notable politicians from the PDP to the APC.
The failure of the PDP to address questions around poor governance and the lack of democratic process within the party strengthened the nascent APC. After the early days of its formation, however, the new party faced serious difficulties. It could not clearly identify its leader from among the leaders of the former parties that had merged; especially difficult was the choice between the ACN’s leader, Bola Tinubu, and the CPC’s leader, Muhammadu Buhari. The APC also took several months to come up with a distinct political agenda and program. The delay, as well as the party’s insufficient engagement with the public, created doubts about the APC’s capacity to challenge the PDP. Furthermore, the APC could not make meaningful headway outside its regional bases in the Southwest and the Muslim North.
What finally broke the camel’s back was the APC’s constant confrontation with the PDP in the media, which forced the ruling party to initiate measures to deal with the opposition challenge. First, the PDP tried to engineer an internal implosion of the APC by co-opting some prominent members of the party, including Tom Ikimi, Ibrahim Shekarau, Ali Modu Sheriff, and Nuhu Ribadu. In addition, the PDP allegedly instigated moves to impeach a number of APC governors; it succeeded in Adamawa State, where it still maintains considerable influence. The defeat of the APC in the Ekiti gubernatorial election of June 2014 marked a major breakthrough for the PDP and a low point for the opposition party.
As Nigeria moves toward the 2015 general elections, many both hope and doubt that the APC will emerge as a national alternative. The elections provide a real chance of opposition victory for the first time since Nigeria’s return to civil rule in 1999. The APC is contending against an extremely discredited and unpopular government and a particularly weak ruling party. The failure of President Goodluck Jonathan’s government to lead Nigeria out of its present governance and security predicaments has weakened his administration’s stand before the public and fueled a desire for change. Furthermore, the poor leadership of successive PDP-led governments has inspired many Nigerians, including some PDP members, to question or reject the party’s leadership.Read More
The reform of the electoral commission is another source of hope for the emergence of the APC. The transformation of INEC into a relatively independent and credible institution offers the possibility of a level playing field for all parties and genuine elections in 2015. In this regard, the PDP’s prospects for stealing the APC’s mandate seem greatly reduced.
Last, the recently concluded primaries of the political parties highlighted the APC’s organizational capacity and willingness to implement democratic procedures. In contrast, the PDP’s decision to adopt President Jonathan as its “consensus” candidate reinforced the party leadership’s disregard for internal democracy. That move inspired several PDP governors to impose their preferred (“consensus”) candidates in the states as well. Attempts by some PDP senators and other party leaders to resist the imposition of candidates have resulted in major rifts in the ruling party. The failure of the PDP to select its candidates through a democratic process has created serious grievances among party members and another wave of defections.
If the outcomes of the recent party primaries are anything to go by, then the APC may be the party to beat in the 2015 elections. The APC is weakened, however, by its inability to earn the support of the Christian communities beyond the southwest region. The party’s prospects in the 2015 elections will be largely determined by its ability to appeal to Christian voters in the south-east, south-south, and north-central regions, where the party is seen as pro-Muslim and its presidential candidate perceived as an Islamic fundamentalist. As the electioneering commences, it will be interesting to see how the APC and the PDP sway the balance of public opinion.
Transactional Politics and Nigeria’s 2015 Elections
In February 2015, Nigeria will hold its fifth general elections since the return to civilian rule in 1999 to choose national and state-level representatives for the executive and legislative arms of government. The historic moment for the next elections will come in 2019, when the tenure of the representatives elected in 2015 expires, marking two uninterrupted decades of democracy for the first time in the country’s history. Apart from several election-related concerns, issues of identity politics, politicization of ethnic differences, and ethnic nationalism have been viewed as critical and are presumed to constitute a major threat to the forthcoming elections. This prognosis glosses over the significance of elite interests, which successfully trump empowered participatory democracy, while other forms of identity (religious, ethnic, sectional, regional) are emphasized. The reality, as already shown by history and as currently witnessed in contemporary Nigerian politics, is that very often, political elites hijack these identities and use them to entrench their interests.
This raises a vital question about what makes these sorts of developments possible. The answer may lie in the sociological factors that propelled political awakening in Nigeria during military rule and the bifurcation of that awakening along class lines. On the one hand, the masses agitated for “genuine” and “popular” democracy, while on the other, the elites called for “inclusion” and “participation” veiled as democracy. The dynamics of political party formation and alliances and the complex political forces at play since the 2011 elections that brought President Goodluck Jonathan to power attest to this. A notable development is that no group has emerged with an identifiable political ideology at the national level. Rather, the major contenders for power in the 2015 elections are parties that are not solely based on ethnicity or some ideological differences but are, rather, organized around well-known political figures.
Given their inability to project power beyond their regional bases, four political parties joined forces in February 2013, forming the All Progressives Congress (APC) to challenge the dominance of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) at the national level. Since then, elected representatives, both at the national and state levels, have engaged in posturing and crisscrossing of political divides as Nigeria has continued to be guided on a course determined by its own political elites. The actors and parties that swamp the country’s politics have in common more similarities than differences.Read More
The politics of 2015 is a reality check on our political status as a country. From one vantage point, Nigeria appears to be moving toward a period of prolonged and uninterrupted democracy; from another, that seems like mere ripples on the surface. These developments must be understood within the broad historical and discursive terrain upon which the national question has unfolded in Nigeria since independence. More importantly, it puts the national question in Africa’s most complex social and political formation, and the need for its resolution back into the public discourse as Nigeria continues to be a nation in waiting.
INEC and the Management of the 2015 Elections: Hopes, Doubts, and Desperation
Election management is central to the success of the electoral process. It consists of such critical activities as determining who is eligible to vote, conducting voter registration, delimiting boundaries, educating voters, monitoring the media, and resolving electoral disputes. It also includes receiving and validating the nominations of electoral candidates, conducting polling, and counting and tabulating the votes. In Nigeria, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is the body statutorily responsible for election management.
In the past, INEC could not demonstrate sufficient specialist skills and capacity to manage the complexity of elections in Nigeria. In some cases, the commission was accused of outright bias and manipulation of the electoral process. In 2007 in particular, its actions provoked outrage, leading to the denunciation of the elections by domestic and international observers. The failure of INEC to conduct credible elections in the past is, perhaps, one of the reasons for recurrent electoral disputes and violence in Nigeria. Political scientists have established a link between the integrity of elections and such outbreaks, and questions about the transparency and fairness of the electoral process and the credibility, independence, neutrality, or partisanship of the election authority are now known to be major sources of conflict. In Nigeria, it is not sufficient for an election to be free and fair; it must be seen to be so by the citizens. A history of failed elections has eroded public confidence in the electoral process, and while improvements in the quality of the 2011 elections have raised it again, their success success has heightened expectations of INEC, placing the commission under stricter public scrutiny.
INEC seems to be aware of public expectation and is making efforts to remove obstacles to success. Since 2011, the commission has embarked on reforms aimed at improving its structure and its planning and policymaking capacities. To this end, it has implemented a comprehensive restructuring of its bureaucracy, proposed a series of changes to the election legal framework, developed a comprehensive election project plan, designed a comprehensive business process mapping, and adopted a new communications policy. Counting on the reforms initiated and the preparations made, the chairman of INEC has declared, “We are convinced that the prospects of having good elections in 2015 are very bright.”6Read More
Being at the core of the process, the electoral commission bears the responsibility of coordinating and directing the other actors to achieve the ultimate goal of credible elections. In Nigeria, this is certainly not an easy task. In preparing for the 2015 elections, INEC must understand that the outcome is a critical measure of whether the gains of 2011 have been consolidated or reversed and whether, in general, Nigeria is making democratic progress. The commission must also appreciate that successful elections provide a strong basis for an anti-conflict advocacy that may help mitigate disputes. Overall, the success of the 2015 elections will underscore the possibility of conducting credible elections in difficult electoral environments.
Women and Nigeria’s 2015 Elections: Opportunities and Obstacles
It would take a special type of crystal ball to say definitively how female politicians will fare in the 2015 general elections. Although we do not have one, we can survey the setting for the elections and make informed guesses on the opportunities and challenges before Nigerian women.
The context of the 2015 elections is linked to the history of Nigerian politics, the civil war, decades of ethno-religious strife and the unfortunate reality that politics is a lucrative business. For the first time since Nigeria’s transition to civil rule in 1999, the major opposition parties have come together, in the fashion of Kenya’s National Rainbow Coalition. This has immense bearing on how much success female politicians can achieve during the elections, considering that the consensus and compromise were cobbled together by various parties, and only a few women are involved.
The numbers tell us some things. First, more women are presenting themselves as candidates than in the past, despite the well-documented challenges. In the 2011 elections, 22 percent more women contested state legislative assembly elections and stood as running mates of gubernatorial candidates than had in 2007. The number of women running for the Senate also increased by about 33 percent, and the female candidates for the House of Representatives almost doubled. In addition, the data from the 2011 voter registration indicate that in states including Abia, Ebonyi, Enugu, Ogun, and Plateau, more women than men registered as voters. Having more women voters will not lead to significant change, however, when only about 10 percent of the candidates are women. Clearly, achieving the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 3 of electing women to 30 percent of the National Assembly seats by 2015 will be extremely difficult to achieve without a constitutional quota.
Party policy is also indicative of the difficulties. For at least two or three election cycles, female candidates in the major parties have had part or all of their formal nomination fees waived, ostensibly making it easier for them to scale the initial financial hurdles of running for office. Notwithstanding, hidden fees and administrative charges remain from which women are not exempt, and the cost of campaigning is high. In some cases, the fee waivers have even been used against female contestants. Some state party executives have reportedly limited the positions women can contest to membership in the State House of Assembly (the lowest contestable position in the 2015 general elections) because the nomination fees that the parties need for funding are waived for them.Read More
Whatever the outcome of the 2015 elections, women are increasingly taking their place in Nigerian party politics and, in the coming years, will become harder to ignore in political calculations. The emergence of the All Progressives Congress (APC) is an indication that Nigeria is moving toward a more balanced contest among the political parties. Increased political competition can improve internal party democracy and help mobilize formerly marginalized groups like women. Moreover, the emerging Nigerian leaders are being raised in a world where more women are in leadership positions, which will hopefully influence their attitudes and make them more accepting of female politicians. All things considered, one can claim the bell cannot be unrung: women in politics are here to stay.
- In the present case, it is April 28, 2015. ↩
- Fisayo Soyombo, “Nigerians held to ransom,” Al Jazeera, Feb 09, 2015, http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2015/02/nigeria-held-ransom-elections-150209091201848.html, accessed March 03, 2015. ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Richard English, Terrorism: How to Respond, New York, Oxford University Press, 2009. ↩
- Brian Klass and Jason Pack, “Madagascar’s Radio DJ President Jockeys for Power,” Huffington Post, 28 January 2014, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jason-pack/madagascars-radio-dj-pres_b_4649893.html, accessed February 08, 2015. ↩
- Attahiru Jega, “Electoral Reforms in Nigeria: Prospects and Challenges,” lecture delivered at the 7th International Electoral Affairs Symposium in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 2013, http://www.electoralnetwork.org/docs/international-electoral-awards-2013/Chairman-of-INEC-Nigeria-Prof.-Attahiru-Jega.pdf (accessed July 22, 2014). ↩