Simon Copeland, a Research Associate in the University of Birmingham’s Institute for Conflict, Cooperation, and Security, writes for EA:
Nigeria’s 2015 presidential election is set to be the most competitive since the military relinquished power in 1999. The People’s Democratic Party (PDP), led by incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan (pictured), have been in power since democratic rule was introduced. However, for the first time they face viable opposition, in the form of Muhammadu Buhari and the All Progressive Congress (APC).
But, having been postponed from February 14 to March 28, will it be held?
Authorities justified the delay because of the bloody insurgency waged by the Islamist group, Boko Haram, that could voting difficult — if not impossible — in many areas of Nigeria.
Despite the security concern, the decision was widely unpopular. The APC claimed the Independent National Electoral Commission yielded to pressure from the beleaguered PDP to delay the election, amid accusations that corruption has been endemic during the tenure of President Jonathan. Popular support for the PDP has dipped because of falling oil prices, upon which Nigeria relies on for much of its wealth, as well as recent party scandals.
Following the postponement of the vote, Jonathan announced on 24 February that the tide had “definitely turned” against Boko Haram as a regional coalition of African forces recaptured territory from the group. However, the six-week electoral delay is still a tight timeframe for the military to deliver on its promise to provide conditions for elections to take place, including “safe zones” for polling in the crisis-hit states of Borno, Adamawa, Yobe, and Jigawa.
The African Union hopes that the newly-created multilateral anti-Boko Haram force can help push back the Islamist group. But President Jonathan is balancing the boost of “security” against the highlighting of his Government’s shortcomings that required the entry of foreign troops beyond brief cross-border incursions by Chadian and Cameroonian forces in pursuit of Boko Haram fighters.
The President’s position is also tenuous because his optimistic proclamation of a turning tide may be premature. The military’s recent successes may be more because long-requested equipment has reached frontline forces, long outgunned and outmaneuvered by Boko Haram because of corruption in the army’s supply chain. Those successes will need to continue to bury controversies such as reports of soldiers forced to abandon their positions after running out of ammunition.
Meanwhile, the military has been unable to stop the frequent suicide bombings — often perpetrated by girls, many under the age of 10 — that have become a trademark of Boko Haram’s insurgency. On February 26 alone, a wave of bombings killed 32 people in Biu and Jos; last Saturday, more than 50 were slain in Maiduguri. If elections are held, they will present ample opportunity for attacks on crowded public areas and institutions.
Boko Haram will also challenge any image of a secure poll through its newly-established presence on Twitter. While the significance of a claimed pledge of allegiance by Boko Haram to the Islamic State is being debated, the group’s activities suggests that it is keen to emulate jihadist success in harnessing online outlets for global propagation of acts of violence.
Put bluntly, Nigeria’s large military presence in the northeast of the country will continue to struggle in containment of Boko Haram, let alone work with a smaller African Union force to peg back the insurgency.
Still, the Government, having said that there will be no more delays in voting, can ill afford to go back on its promise. The opposition’s Muhammadu Buhari has campaigned on a platform of “returning” power to the predominantly Muslim north from the corrupt Jonathan, a representative of the Christian-dominated south. The campaign invokes Jonathan’s controversial decision to break an informal power-sharing agreement between the regions, paving the way to his way to victory in an election in 2011 — and to the post-election violence in the north that killed about 800 people.
Suspension of the elections could bolster a sectarian scenario of Christians denying political representation to the large Muslim population. It would also dent Nigeria’s example for the countries across west Africa — Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Guinea, and Niger — holding elections in 2015.