Ken Saro Wiwa (1941- 1995);
KILLED by the Nigerian state
The kidnapped girls of Chibok, actual number currently unknown;
ABANDONED by the Nigerian state
Lawal Akanni Ojuolape (30), Bartholomew Owoh (26), and Bernard Ogendengbe (29);
MURDERED in cold blood by the Nigerian state
The dead at Odi, Bayelsa state;
MASSACRED by the Nigerian state
All Nigerian citizens, at home and in the diaspora;
BETRAYED by the Nigerian state
Since Nigeria returned to civil rule in May 1999, every election has been labeled by scholars and general observers as the most pivotal and most momentous in the country’s history. Yet, irrespective of their outcomes, the country has hobbled along, poised, all too familiarly, between the potentiality of glory and the probability of disaster. Nigeria has not exactly flourished, but it has not disintegrated either, even if Boko Haram, with its sworn determination to impose a semblance of a Paleolithic political order, has bitten off a not insignificant chunk of territory. Whatever it is then that throws the commentariat into regular panic every four years, it is most certainly not just a fear of possible physical collapse, but something definitely deeper. It is, one suspects, a philosophical regret that, perhaps with every electoral cycle that produces the ‘wrong’ victor, the country drifts further away from the possibility of genuine political renaissance.
True to form, the March 28 presidential election is being billed as a make-or-break affair, the last opportunity for Nigerians to liberate their country from the clutches of those who have held it to ransom for fifty odd years and some, and who continue to milk it for the exclusive gratification of a small elite. It is a tantalizing prospect, when you think of it—get this one election right, and all else shall be added unto you. Except that when you are dealing with a country so complex and troubled, and so marinated in its own contradictions like Nigeria, it is going to require more than a single election—or elections in toto for that matter—to have a shot at getting things right.
This is not to diminish the significance of March 28. For one, it offers an opportunity to take the country back, if we can call it that, from an incumbent who is not known for being cerebral, and whose sheer maladroitness has come as a real shock to Nigerians, many of whom, it should be remembered, have been conditioned to expect a basic level of incompetence from their leaders. For another, there is a real chance to upstage the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), winner by all means necessary of all presidential elections since 1999, if only for the symbolism of leveling the playing field and keeping honest a ruling coalition that, with the passing of every electoral cycle, grows in entitlement and diminishes in moral stature and social responsibility.
Yet, and not for the first time in Nigeria’s political history, the alternative is not so easy to embrace. Indeed, in matters of political substance and strategic vision, it is hardly an alternative at all. If, on the one hand, the incumbent, President Goodluck Jonathan seems incapable of communicating the most basic ideas about political goods and social justice without falling over, General Buhari on the other treats the past and any suggestion of moral reckoning as anathema. At a critical historical moment, therefore, when the yearning of millions of Nigerians for a leader of some distinction could not be more palpable, circumstances have conspired- once again- to saddle Nigeria with two perfectly unacceptable candidates.
Why does a nation in desperate need of bounty almost invariably have to be content with such thin gruel? How, for instance, does one account for President Goodluck Jonathan, complete with his flagrant intellectual limitations, in a country brimming with such extraordinary talent, both at home and in the diaspora? And why General Buhari (again!) thirty years after he laid waste to common decorum and decency, plunged the Fourth Estate into corporate misery, and oversaw arguably the most one-sided persecution of a political class in the history of postcolonial Africa?
There are no easy answers. But whatever explanations are advanced, there is no escaping the sober reality that Nigeria’s current fate is, shall we say, not a matter of coincidence, but a perfectly logical accumulation of the political ‘work’ that has been several decades in the making, and whose dynamic continues unabated. Nigerian scholars and scholars of Nigeria agree that these dynamics were incubated and unleashed long before the birth of Nigeria as an independent country in 1960. This means that any attempt to understand, say, Boko Haram’s medieval fury, the dissoluteness of the political class, the moral culpability of the theocratic elite, and the apparent impotence of the mass of the citizenry, must be cognizant of the layout of the Nigerian political arena, and its frustrating synthesis of constraints and possibilities.
Whether collectively or individually, the essays in this collection assume this analytic stance. While they take the March 28 elections as their immediate empirical provocation, each contribution is located within a broader ambiance of intellectual debates and conversations about the overall Nigerian political process. For example, Said Adejumobi, whilst immediately agitated about the threat the Boko Haram insurgency poses to the territorial integrity of the Nigerian state, is, in the long run, more worried about the Islamist group as a cipher for state failure in Nigeria. In his reading, Boko Haram offers a timely lens into problems of state incapacity, deterritorialization, and the diminution of state sovereignty, problems which increasingly confront states, and not just their postcolonial African variant. Perhaps finding little by way of substance, Akin Adesokan takes aim at President Jonathan’s style, and concludes, having mobilized several examples, that “The president’s style is to opt for the commonplace: do the needful, stretch nothing, be seen to have done what is necessary.” Should the president be held to account for this signal flaw? Adesokan has no doubt. After all, he (President Jonathan) “is an executive president and his office comes with a lot of discretionary powers. But he is an ordinary person, far from the risk-taker needing courage, loyalty or wisdom to act.”
In grappling with the moral economy of power sharing as it affects the 2015 elections, Brandon Kendhammer attributes the relative stability of the Fourth Republic to the success of the ruling PDP in using “the incentive structures of Nigeria’s post-civil war power sharing systems to its advantage.” For him, “By adhering to a rigid but highly transparent system that rotated key positions and appointments across ethnic, regional, and religious lines, the PDP effectively monopolized access to the political resources necessary under the power sharing requirements to compete in national elections.” Kendhammer argues that whatever the outcome of these elections, the power sharing “big umbrella” formula perfected by the PDP is unlikely to lose its luster. Moses Ochonu’s essay thematically complements Kendhammer’s. Whilst Kendhammer is interested in accounting for the PDP’s tenacity despite its programmatic poverty, Ochonu offers a coruscating assessment of the oppositional landscape. Although he agrees with a majority of scholars that the PDP’s “cozy dalliance with corruption and the corrupt” may well be its undoing, Ochonu argues that the opposition All Progressive Congress (APC) forfeits what should have been a moral high ground by embracing “the pragmatic politically effective strategy of courting former members of the PDP and corrupt but influential political actors.”
Asonzeh Ukah’s contribution analyses the deeply troubling twinning of religion and politics in contemporary Nigeria, and the role of an increasingly powerful religious elite in politics and political claim-making. In the context of the struggle to win over what he calls a “Pentecostal electorate,” Ukah shows how “The power to religiously define Buhari and shape public perception of him has become an electoral resource for the ruling political party.” On the whole Ukah offers a succinct reminder of the pivotal, if destabilizing, role of religion in electoral engineering, and how, for desperate political candidates, “the ability to mobilize large congregants is an electoral resource.”
The March 28 presidential election features a northern Muslim candidate against a southern Christian minority incumbent, hence the enhanced role of religion against a general backdrop of pervasive Pentecotalization. But as Godwin Onuoha argues, (these) elections are also about other issues throbbing just below the surface. The example he addresses is Igbo politics and the, so far, elusive quest of the Igbo for presidential power. Onuoha contends that although the idea of “power rotation” is implicitly embedded in the structure of power relations within most political parties,” “the Igbos have not profited…in a manner that will enable them attain the highest office” in the land. Having provided a snapshot of the distinct phases in post-civil war Igbo politics, Onuoha concludes, very much against the grain, that “the Igbo Presidency Project and demand for incorporation is basically an invention of the Igbo faction of the ruling elite, and is not necessarily emancipatory.”
With the dominant focus of the majority of the contributions on ‘high politics,’ Rudi Gaudio’s emphasis on the realm of ‘low politics,’ the everyday domain where Nigerians of all stripes meet, hate and love, enacting quotidian dramas of selfhood in which the state is largely distinguished by its absence, is a crucial change of gear. For Gaudio, it is important to articulate these dramas, not just because they often confound scholarly hypotheses, but because they help to expose “simplifications that mask the nation’s actual problems, as well as its actual and potential synergies and opportunities.” While, all too often, divisions at the level of ‘high politics’ appear firmly set in stone, Gaudio provides an excellent portrait of a parallel universe in which political allegiances are fickle, not because people are incapable of loyalty, but because they feel connected and committed to one another as human beings first and foremost.
This collection is, if nothing else, an intellectual tribute to this ecumenical spirit. It registers the fervent desire by Nigerians to live and work together in harmony, and to create and nourish a properly democratic space where all can enjoy a sense of belonging. That spirit endures, over and above the overpowering din of a single election, and the problems that appear to smother it and hinder its flourishing will have to be engaged, long after a winner and a loser has emerged.
But how will this engagement be done, and through what forms of agency? One answer to the first part of the question is that this will have to involve exactly the same kind of trans-ethnic and pan-religious sensibility that, Gaudio reassures us, is already a fact of life across various Nigerian communities. The power of such a coalition was in robust evidence in January 2012 when the Occupy movement, galvanized by a combination of local disaffection and external example, extracted concrete concessions from the Jonathan government. The problem with Occupy, as with similar examples of spontaneous people power in Nigerian history with which it invites comparison, is that the original rage is hardly ever canalized into enduring civic institutions.
For that to change—and here we come to the second part of the question—a conscious effort must be made, mustering the country’s considerable human capital at home and in the diaspora- to build alternative structures of political engagement. Primarily, such structures will provide a focal point for those who wish to influence the system without being necessarily involved in the pull and shove of everyday politics. In the long run though, they, i.e. the structures, will serve as generators of socially usable ideas for a country badly in need of them.
If, ultimately, the essays here are adjudged as preparing the groundwork for this kind of alternative politics, they will have fulfilled their objective.
* Thanks to Africa is a Country Chief Editor Sean Jacobs and Designer Sam Clements.
“Too much of a sense of identity makes a man think he can do no wrong;
too little does the same.”
--Djuna Barnes (quoted in James Baldwin, Princes and Powers, 1956)
Two issues dominated political discourse in Nigeria in 2006, the final full year of the presidency of Olusegun Obasanjo (1999- 2007), the first president of the Fourth Republic: the ‘third-term agenda’ and political violence in the Niger Delta. Obasanjo’s devious attempts at extending his tenure beyond two terms were defeated by a combination of mass opposition and the opportunistic grit of his political enemies, but the violence of hostage-taking in the Delta was too heedless to be fought. The militants were armed, so the state had to negotiate. One outcome of the complex negotiations was the emergence as Vice-President in 2007 of Goodluck Jonathan, formerly a professor of Zoology at the University of Port Harcourt. Inside four years, as a result of the “Doctrine of Necessity” cobbled together to resolve the constitutional crisis arising from President Umaru Yar’Adua’s demise, a man who wished for nothing higher than the deputy governorship of Bayelsa State found himself at the helms in a country where everyone has an opinion, and wields it like a warden’s rod. A man from whom little is expected dances to the music of his station.
Here is the farce that is Jonathan’s presidency:
The piercing cry of marginalization which has defined the history of the country’s oil-bearing region since independence is now little more than the murmur of a short-sighted elite operating a virulent form of internal colonialism; by presenting Jonathan as its best-foot-forward the Niger Delta has frittered immense moral and an intellectual capital; the right-wing tactics of old Nigeria, routinely deployed by the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, have eaten through the progressive fabric of the nation’s body-politic, to the extent that an alliance of North and Southwest power blocs now presents itself through the All Progressive Congress, APC, as a viable alternative, compromising progressive politics immeasurably.
In the euphoric days following the end of military rule in 1999, with Obasanjo settled into his job as president and the specter of Shari’a governmentality still in the northern horizon, I agreed to review a new, non-commercial magazine published by the Nigerian chapter of a non-governmental organization interested in environmental issues. People at this NGO expected me to provide a “formal analysis” of the magazine, commenting on the layout, design, and the content of the occasional political opinion. They also invited a friendly political activist to chair the event, and I knew right away what was afoot—with “a literary person” you didn’t want to leave things to chance.
They got the obligatory review, but the context of my commentary was broader. The general elections in February of that year had convinced me that the popular struggle for democratic change peaking during the regime of General Sani Abacha had been usurped by the same forces it had meant to drive out. Political struggle in the Niger Delta had been historically prosecuted on the highest level of personal sacrifice. Yet the global scale of the struggle also ensured that issues of life-and-death faced by the ordinary people in the Niger Delta were now a matter of administrative convenience. In his closing remarks, the chair of the occasion essentially debunked all my claims, and with a touch of bad taste (or good, depending on how one sees it), commented on the cologne on my shirt as proof of my political outlook. I was more amused than offended.
Perhaps the bureaucratization of the struggle for environmental rights in Nigeria was inevitable. In Western Europe and North America, environmentalism was a rationalized part of political life, and much of the material support that Nigerian activists received was meant to reinforce the liberal view of politics as pragmatic negotiations between the sovereignty of power and the sovereignty of rights. Did this understanding of non-governmental patronage anticipate the militancy of the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta, MEND, and other groups? What were the links between the militias and the groups that have occupied power in the South-South in the past decade and a half?
It is political naiveté to expect the swamp dwellers to forever hymn the wreck that had been their reality since Oloibiri. After all, power blocs rise and are consolidated from the resources that have impoverished the Niger Delta, the same blocs using the power thus gained to make the impoverishment a fact of life. If they wanted to live like that forever, there would be no point in struggling against the pervasively oppressive system to begin with.
Yet a close attention to the antagonism between President Jonathan and Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State in 2013, and in the historical context of the Niger Delta after 1990, revealed several things, the most disarming being the famed dictum about history repeating itself as farce. Why are those who have suffered so much due to the primitive exploitation of oil resources from the Delta so eager to continue with things as they are? Is it too much to expect that, with the balance of power in favor of the once-marginalized, greater concern for ethics would carry the day?
It is often said that President Jonathan, like his two predecessors in the Fourth Republic, is the product of a corrupt political process. Given the structural violence pervasive at all levels of society, a person of outstanding moral power could not have emerged as president in 2011. Jonathan’s political behavior during his first term indicated a below-ordinary level of a sense of responsibility, falling short of what his office demanded. Beyond his commendable rectitude in the face of a provocative open letter published by Obasanjo in February 2014, it is hard to find an instance in which the president has behaved with outstanding courage.
Nigerians expect a lot from their presidents; they expect a president to be powerful without being overbearing. The problem is that the Jonathan is an ordinary figure ruling a country of extraordinary expectations. What is expected is that he rises above the values of his milieu—negative for the most part—and become the one to cut the expectations to size. There is a problem here. Even with the best intentions, the president cannot fight above his weight. Add to this the peculiar experiments of the past twenty-five years (since the military formation of two political parties), which has led to the emergence of parties without distinguishing ideologies and of which the PDP is symptomatic. The result is a mismatch between the protocols of presidential power, civic expectations, and unpredictable events for which the president may not be held accountable but which he would accept as part of the turf if he had the right amount of political imagination.
This is why Jonathan as president hasn’t done much to demonstrate exceptional political will. The more controversial decisions of his presidency—the removal of putative petroleum subsidies in January 2012; the ghastly renaming of the University of Lagos as Moshood Abiola University in June 2012; the pardoning of former governor of Bayelsa State, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha; the still unaccounted-for disappearance of $20 billion in February 2014; the arms’ deal imbroglio in South Africa; the confoundingly shoddy handling of the Boko Haram menace--could have had serious consequences for Jonathan were Nigeria to be governed by transparent rules. The fuel subsidy scandal later revealed a level of corruption too high for legal probity; the failed renaming of UNILAG ran the government into a cul-de-sac, without the kind of escape route soldiers routinely created by simply shooting in the air and taking off in a cloud of dusts. Thus the president is left with only forgettable actions in the “transformational” vein. It is thus an empty PR slogan, before and during electioneering campaigns, that Jonathan’s is called the “transformational presidency.”
The president’s style is to opt for the commonplace: do the needful, stretch nothing, be seen to have done what is necessary.
Can one blame him for this? Yes, to the extent that he is an executive president and his office comes with a lot of discretionary powers. But he is an ordinary person, far from the risk-taker needing courage, loyalty or wisdom to act.
Few actions generated as much anger and indignation during the first two years of Jonathan’s tenure as the controversial pardon of his former boss, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, in April 2013. The removal of petroleum subsidy and the renaming of the University of Lagos by presidential fiat were quickly or eventually reversed because the president could not really afford to fritter his political capital on those relatively insignificant issues. The big game, second-term tenure at Aso Rock, was still at large, the more cynical of his advisers must have calculated, so why allow these civic matters to lay your trap to waste?
Having come to power against the wishes of the power bloc in the North, and not sure of continuing acceptance in the other power bloc in the Southwest, Jonathan’s best bet remained the emerging bloc called South-South, his own political base. But even that could not be taken for granted, politics being what it is, and Nigerian politics for that matter. In addition to an uncertain political climate, there was another bee in the bonnet. Henry Okah, an acknowledged leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta, MEND, remained unsullied by political horse-trading.
But Okah got into trouble as soon as Jonathan got into power, following his arrest and trial for the 50th independence anniversary explosions at Eagle Square in Abuja in October 2010. Some of his statements to the court were leaked to the press, which indicated that persons close to the president had allegedly tried to blackmail him, but there was no knowing how he stood with the people in the South-South, the political base he shared with the president. Only the president and his closest advisers knew this.
Here’s a plausible scenario:
The militancy in the Niger Delta which grew out of widespread state violence in the 1990s bred an astute sense of political awakening, which MEND did a lot to institutionalize. The emergence of politicians like Jonathan, Alamieyeseigha, Peter Odili, and many others can be traced to this political awakening.
The same process explained the indispensability of this geopolitical zone to the calculations of the People’s Democratic Party in the run-up to the 2007 general elections: the Vice-Presidency had to be zoned to the South-South. Jonathan, initially deputy to Alamieyeseigha until the latter was impeached, arrested, and convicted for money laundering charges, moved swiftly from that office to the governorship, then the Vice-Presidency, until circumstances thrust him into the President’s office.
Of these figures, only Okah remained outside official politics. Whatever his current travails, he was certainly not without his own constituency. Jonathan had benefited most from the political fortunes of the region, in actual terms. His ascent to the office of the president was a historic feat, and pointed to the legitimacy of the case for the redress of the imbalances in Nigerian politics, especially as far as the Niger Delta was concerned.
On the national stage, the menace of Boko Haram and the fallout of wrangling within the ruling party seemed to be weakening the president’s hold on the party’s bridle. His desire to contest the forthcoming election was heading for a dead-end. Okah’s trial looked likely to end in at least a conviction, and if this happened without a counterbalancing development, the hold on power would be weaker still, his influence in the Delta eroded.
The rehabilitation of Alamieyeseigha came to the rescue. The former governor was reputedly influential among the leadership of the disarmed militant groups. When he returned to his base after jumping bail in 2006, he was warmly welcomed by his people. He was not a suspect in a criminal case; he was a victimized defender of their rights.
A more self-destructing politics of identity can hardly be imagined.
Barka kadai, Rudi. How are your students? Hoping you are well.
The time of elections and politicians has come.
So please pray for us because now insecurity is increasing every day.
Because now thieves are bothering people.
Me too: thieves broke into my house last night.
They took my generator and some of my wife’s bridal goods.
But we’re all ok. Wasalaam, rest well.
In early 2014 the passage of the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act, popularly known as the antigay law, was celebrated as an example of regional, ethnic and political ecumenism: Nigerians of all stripes had joined together to promote a common vision of national identity and citizenship. Today, as federal elections loom, that unity is a mirage; Nigeria seems as fractured as ever. It may be tempting to view disunity as the essential truth, to see Nigerian unity as nothing more than a feel-good image peddled by politicians and other propagandists when it supports their pursuit of power and money. But Nigerian disunity is also a myth. As commonly purveyed by public officials and certain branches of the media, both images—of unity and disunity—are simplifications that mask the nation’s actual problems, as well as its actual and potential synergies and opportunities.
When I set out to write this essay, I received a text message in Hausa from a friend in Kano. Mahmud works in a shop near Sabon Gari selling linoleum flooring, where he earns barely enough to support a wife and two children. (Mahmud is not his real name. The same is true for the other non-public figures mentioned in this essay.) A native of Kano’s historic Old City, he lives with his family in a new suburb on the city’s periphery where land prices and rents are cheaper. He commutes to and from work on his motorcycle, which he also uses to run occasional errands for other shop-owners to supplement the salary he receives from his boss.
Mahmud approved of the antigay law. Although he had affairs with men when he was younger and still has friends in Kano’s underground community of men “who do the deed” (masu harka), he lives an upstanding life as a Hausa Muslim husband and father. From me and other foreign acquaintances, and from the local and international Hausa-language news programs he listens to on the radio, he knows that same-sex marriage is legal in many Western countries. He finds the idea intriguing, but he does not think same-sex marriage should be made legal in Nigeria. He believes the antigay law has made things more difficult for masu harka—friends of his have been blackmailed by younger men who threatened to expose them to the police—but he blames his friends too for being reckless in their choice of sex partners, and does not think the antigay law can or should be repealed.
Mahmud approved of the antigay law, but he does not think it’s very important. In his view, whatever threat same-sex marriage might have posed to Nigerian society pales in comparison to the challenges he faces on a daily basis. On several occasions over the last few years, terrorist bombs have hit close to his workplace and the neighborhood he grew up in, and he and his family have been awakened by the sound of gunshots as armed battles between Nigerian soldiers and alleged Boko Haram sympathizers have taken place near his home. Terrorist violence and state efforts to contain it have also exacted a painful economic toll. Commerce is down, and Mahmud struggles to earn enough money to feed his family, put petrol in his motorcycle, and pay his children’s school fees. The recent burglary of his home only added to his sense of danger and insecurity.
My friend Isaiah also fears for his and family’s safety in the coming weeks. Popularly known as Engineer, Isaiah is originally from Enugu but has lived in the suburbs of Abuja for over fifteen years. After working as a motorcycle mechanic in his hometown, he moved with his wife and young child to the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) in the hopes of starting a business. He started riding okada (motorcycle-taxi) as a way to pay the rent. His earnings took a hit when the FCT government banned okadas from central Abuja in 2006, but he stuck with the job as his family grew. From his earnings he was able to buy a used car and a plot of land in an indigenous settlement on the outskirts of Abuja where he built a house. Before he was able to move into it, however, FCT government agents declared that Isaiah’s house had been illegally constructed and demolished it, along with most of the houses around it. Isaiah took the loss in his stride and endeavored to start over. He painted his car green, registered it with the appropriate authorities, and started driving a taxi in central Abuja. From his earnings and his wife’s income as a part-time office assistant in a primary school, he was able to buy a plot of land in a different indigenous settlement further outside the city. He built a small two-bedroom house and moved into it with his wife and six children in late 2012. Last year, government agents came round and painted big red X’s on Isaiah’s house and all his neighbors’ houses, marking them for demolition.
When I called him last month to wish him a happy new year, Isaiah told me his and his neighbor’s houses were still standing. He was grateful for the reprieve, of course, but he suspects the government has suspended demolitions until after the election, and worries what will happen next. His concerns are not limited to the fate of his house. Mindful of the violence that erupted in northern Nigeria after the presidential election in 2011, Isaiah fears that, if President Jonathan is re-elected, ethnic conflicts might break out in his neighborhood. Although the area is ethnically diverse, it still feels “northern” to him and he fears that, as Igbos, he and his family will be targeted as presumed supporters of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). He attends regular meetings of an Enugu migrants’ association and has contingency plans to return to his hometown if things in Abuja get too dangerous.
As a Christian, Isaiah supported the antigay law as a matter of decency and common sense. But like Mahmud, he was not enthusiastic about it. He doesn’t give lawmakers much credit for passing it, and wishes they’d pay attention to more important issues, like the need for affordable housing, fixing the supply of water and electricity, tackling the problem of security, and so forth.
As middle-aged married men with some secondary school education, Mahmud and Isaiah share many of the same concerns. They are committed to their respective faiths and cultural backgrounds, but their political allegiances are hardly set in stone. When Goodluck Jonathan succeeded the late Umaru Yar’adua in 2010, Mahmud took to heart the new president’s pledge to serve the interests of all Nigerians. His neighbors might call Jonathan arna (“pagan”), but that kind of rhetoric didn’t prevent Mahmud from hoping that life might improve under the new administration. However, as the insecurity in Kano worsened, and as the economy steadily deteriorated, Mahmud lost that sense of optimism. Isaiah, too, has grown wary of President Jonathan. When I visited him last year, Isaiah had nothing but scorn for the president and his party, who speak of a “transformation agenda” while the national infrastructure—and the nation itself—seems to be falling apart.
Today Mahmud is supporting Jonathan’s challenger, Muhammadu Buhari. Life has gotten too precarious under Jonathan, and Buhari seems to offer the only possibility of positive change. Isaiah is not sure. He distrusts the president and fears what might happen if Jonathan is re-elected, but he is also wary of handing power to a one-time military ruler from the Muslim North. It might appear as if both Mahmud and Isaiah have retreated into predictably “tribalistic” positions. But both men’s ideas and allegiances are far more nuanced.
From the perspective of Isaiah and Mahmud, what's really ailing Nigeria is not same-sex marriage, but the ability of men to achieve the role of provider and protector for their families. Young men can't afford to get married or even have girlfriends; older men find it difficult to feed, clothe and educate their families and keep them safe. In such circumstances it is not hard to convince some men that the problems they're facing are due to other people having unfair advantages: rich men and women using their ill-gotten gains to attract mistresses and boy-toys, straight or gay; members of one family, tribe, church or mosque channeling wealth and opportunity to their fellows at the expense of others; women using their sexual charms to extract favors from men and pit men against each other.
Neither Mahmud nor Isaiah is especially privileged, yet each might view the other with suspicion. Isaiah might imagine that Mahmud derives unfair benefits from his supposed connections with Hausa Muslim big men who like to chase boys. Mahmud might suspect that Isaiah has friends among the Igbo moguls who allegedly control much of Abuja's real estate. Both men share a frustration with the elites of all backgrounds whose misrule has led Nigeria to its current impasse. Both are also open to the possibility of interethnic solidarity and cooperation. But even if they lived in the same town, they would be unlikely to join forces because of habitual ethnic prejudices and linguistic disparities—Mahmud speaks limited English and Pidgin; Isaiah knows only a few Hausa expressions.
A radio station in Kano is pointing the way towards bridging the linguistic and cultural gaps that prevent men like Isaiah and Mahmud from forging common ground. Wazobia FM Kano is part of the family of Wazobia radio stations that have attracted huge followings in Lagos, Port Harcourt and Abuja by broadcasting entirely in Nigerian Pidgin (or what some language activists have dubbed “Naija langwej”). The Kano station, at 95.1 on the FM dial, is somewhat different. Instead of an all-Pidgin platform, its on-air personalities converse in a seamless blend of Pidgin and Hausa. Pidgin-speaking announcers listen to their Hausa-speaking counterparts and respond in Pidgin; the Hausa-speakers do the reverse. No translations are provided; the announcers are all bilingual. Judging from the calls and text-messages the station receives from the public, its audience is truly diverse, and includes a significant fraction of Hausa-speakers who can understand Pidgin to some extent but are uncomfortable speaking it. Other listeners may have a similarly limited, receptive knowledge of Hausa.
In cities throughout Nigeria, people like Mahmud and Isaiah are becoming increasingly aware of the common struggles they face as working-class citizens. This awareness makes them ready to espouse what I like to call a popular ecumenical cosmopolitanism that transcends (but does not displace) their particular ethnic and religious loyalties. As shown by the success of the Wazobia FM stations, this popular ecumene is mediated largely by Nigerian Pidgin, though given the geography of that language’s origins and spread, additional efforts are needed to encourage some Hausa-speakers to take part in the “Naija” public sphere.
In 2013 Wazobia FM Kano was banned for airing a program that allegedly incited violence. Without passing judgment on that specific accusation, the banning of the station—which lasted almost a year—had the unfortunate effect of foreclosing one of the few public forums for interethnic communication available to Kano’s citizenry. Its return to the airwaves was widely celebrated.
Regardless of the outcome of the federal elections, it is imperative that Nigerians insist on, and that their leaders honor, freedom of public expression. The media are not perfect, but they provide a necessary space for cultivating a genuine sense of national belonging. As an oral-aural medium that is increasingly interactive, radio is especially important for fostering democratic debate. A free Nigerian media sphere has the potential to nourish the ecumenical, cosmopolitan leanings of working-class men like Isaiah and Mahmud. It also has the potential to engage their wives and daughters, as well as other women and the nation’s largely hidden communities of gender and sexual minorities, whose perspectives and contributions will all be crucial if Nigeria is ever to realize its promise as the Giant of Africa.
Of all of the problems that have bedeviled Nigeria over the past 50 years, building a strong national identity amidst its extraordinary divisions of ethnicity, language, and religion has likely been the hardest. Nigerians’ commitment to putting their national identity above their ethnic and religious affiliations ranks among Africa’s lowest (Robinson 2014), offering a simple explanation for why its political institutions are so often swamped by identity-based conflicts. Yet just a year past the centennial of its creation, Nigeria has also demonstrated a tenacious commitment to hanging together. Indeed, its current Fourth Republic has survived longer than any of its previous civilian regimes in spite of a series of ongoing ethno-religious conflicts that have killed thousands and displaced millions.
Much of the relative stability of the Fourth Republic (1999-) can be attributed to a remarkable fifteen- year run by the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), the most successful party in Nigerian history. Fueled by a combination of strategic calculation and an unrepentant willingness to play hardball (up to and including alleged vote-buying and rigging), between 1999 and 2013 the PDP built a national coalition broader and more expansive than any before it, ultimately holding the presidency through four consecutive elections. Here, the PDP’s greatest attribute has been its ability to use the incentive structures of Nigeria’s post-civil war powersharing system to its advantage. By adhering to a rigid but highly transparent system that rotated key positions and appointments across ethnic, regional, and religious lines, the PDP effectively monopolized access to the political resources necessary under the powersharing requirements to compete in national elections.
Moving towards the 2015 elections, the PDP finds itself weakened by internal squabbles and scandals, declining oil revenues (and a weakened federal balance sheet), and growing concern with the out-of-control Boko Haram insurgency in the northeast. Most importantly, it confronts an organized and (relatively) unified opposition movement, the All Progressives Congress (APC). Originally founded in 2013 as a coalition of progressive politicians and activists from the north and southwest, the APC first gained attention for not adhering to informal powersharing expectations, promising instead a programmatic party platform and campaign headlined by leaders chosen for their competence, not their region of origin. But as the election nears—and notably, as the PDP struggles with its own internal powersharing system—the APC has taken on a more “traditional” form, populated by PDP defectors (particularly from the North) who will, presumably, expect resources and positions allocated to them and their supporters should they help to engineer an upset. Whether or not the rise of the APC portends a genuine break in the powersharing-driven status quo or simply more of the same remains to be seen.
The Paradox of Nigerian Politics
One of the abiding paradoxes of Nigerian politics is that the very institutions and rules designed to reduce ethnic and religious tensions often produce more and more intense conflict, undermining the very democratic principles and practices they were meant to reinforce. One culprit has been its post-civil war powersharing bargain, originally designed in the mid-1970s to both prevent the rampant ethnic outbidding that had destroyed the First Republic and address widespread feelings (particularly among minority groups) of marginalization within the federation. Over the last forty years, this eclectic system has remained largely unaltered, carried over from the 1978 Second Republic constitution and through fifteen years of military rule to today. Indeed, Nigeria can count itself as one of only a handful of nations to ever maintain a post-conflict powersharing bargain for a decade or more, giving it an unexpected place of pride in the annals of international governance.
In a certain light, ethno-religious powersharing in Nigeria has been a success. Although identity-based violence remains sadly common, a return to the First Republic’s ethno-regional stalemates and zero-sum confrontations seems unlikely. Much of this success is owed to the integrative components of the powersharing bargain, expressly designed to force political parties to cooperate across ethnic and regional lines. Beginning with the 1978 constitution, all parties have been required to demonstrate a “national presence,” officially banning those that fail to operate offices and contest elections across the country. Parties are also prohibited from adopting explicitly ethnic or religious orientations, although most find ways around this in local electioneering. And of course, there’s the requirement that winning presidential candidates capture at least 25 percent of the vote in two-thirds of the states, ostensibly preventing a party with an overwhelming base in one part of the country but little support elsewhere from emerging victorious.
On the other side of the bargain are the representational components. Here, the centerpiece is the federal character principle, which began life as a constitutional guarantee that major federal appointments (the general officer corps, cabinet ministers, ambassadors) would be equally apportioned to all regions of the country. Over the past 35 years, however, the concept has expanded far beyond its initial ambitions, transformed not only into a formal quota system for nearly all forms of federal employment, but also an expansive, informal set of values and expectations—a “moral economy”—centered around demands that nearly everything in public life be meticulously balanced across ethnic and religious lines. From the composition of federal commissions to university admissions and the roster of the Super Eagles (the national soccer team), Nigerian politics are defined by the need to publicly perform this balancing act, a talisman to ward off the claims of discrimination that even the largest ethnic and religious communities throw about freely.
As myself and others have argued (Joseph 1987; Bogaards 2010; Kendhammer 2010), Nigeria’s powersharing bargains have played a very important role in structuring how political entrepreneurs and parties organize and build their support and mobilization networks. But while the intention of the bargain’s framers seems to have tilted towards the integrative side, it’s been the representational aspects—and in particular, the federal character—that have had the greatest impact. In principle, the “breadth” requirements can be met without reference to ethnic politics at all. The realities of the federal character, however, mean that access to state resources and recognition continue to flow through organized ethno-regional interests—a fancy way of describing classic patronage networks.
As the American political scientist Richard Joseph (1987) memorably described, the first party to seize upon the federal character principle to avoid the need to engage in mass political mobilizing was the Second Republic’s National Party of Nigeria (NPN). In order to fulfill its distributional requirements, the northern “core” of the NPN needed to offer either a broadly appealing policy program (a challenge given that it hadn’t been organized around any particular guiding principles) or recruit elite allies capable of turning out their own communities based on promises of patronage. But how to attract such allies, given the uncertain rewards? A crowded, big-tent party would have many contestants for a narrow range of plum positions, surely alienating many. The NPN’s solution was to formally announce that it would rotate its key positions—presidential and vice-presidential candidates and party chairman—between four ethno-regional “zones,” North, West, East, and “minorities.”
By providing a guarantee that representatives from all four zones would eventually have a chance at these spots, the NPN offered a measure of upward mobility for its allies, something its leading competitors (all dominated by leading First Republic personalities) couldn’t. In the four years prior to the 1983 coup, these guarantees were slowly expanded into state-level politics as well, encouraging local political entrepreneurs to throw in with the NPN in exchange for their voter mobilization efforts. Naturally, if this required vote-rigging and violence, the national party was willing to tolerate it. More than any other factor, it was state-level electoral malfeasance by the NPN in 1983, as local candidates sought to consolidate their own positions in light of the party’s national victory during the first round of voting, and the national party’s unwillingness to punish those responsible, that set off the chain of events ending in the New Year’s Eve coup (Hart 1993).
The Rise of the Unbeatable PDP
The PDP’s dominance over the Fourth Republic political scene is a logical extension of these trends. Beginning with the party’s origins in the so-called “Group of 34,” an unlikely coalition of anti-Abacha activists, old-guard Second Republic stalwarts, and members of key northern political networks (the Shehu Musa Yar’adua/Atiku connection, in particular) and extending to its early embrace of “power shift” to a Yoruba presidential candidate in recompense for the annulled 1993 elections, the PDP’s mastery of the federal character principle has been its greatest political strength. Beginning in 1999 and accelerating under President Obasanjo, the PDP leadership has focused on carefully curating its alliances with patronage networks and “godfathers” (a Nigerian term for elite influencers and political “fixers” that wield power behind the scenes) in order to win state-level elections, particularly at the gubernatorial level. To recruit them, it’s maintained a careful internal powersharing project that parallels the legal mandates of the federal character, extending not only to the federal level, but within states and local government areas (LGAs).
In particular, it seized upon the NPN’s zoning strategy, re-purposing it to fit the now-six zonal categories in the Nigerian political lexicon, offering an even more expansive terrain for informal balancing. Despite the considerable political challenges of working with state-level godfathers (perhaps the most famous example is in Anambra, where a split between godfather Andy Uba and his former client, state governor Chris Ngige in 2004 required Obasanjo’s very public personal intervention), this strategy has paid handsome dividends. The PDP has been able to consistently mount an overwhelming “ground game” for national elections, not only turning out the vote for PDP candidates, but by stacking the institutional board (state-level electoral officials and the security services, in particular) against potential opponents. And even in its current, weakened state (following a spate of defections in 2014, it directly controls a mere 20 statehouses), there are good reasons to believe the PDP retains an advantage in meeting the 25 percent in two-thirds threshold over all comers.
Putting aside the question of the PDP’s performance in government (like most things in Nigeria, it’s been mixed), its dominance raises a series of important challenges to the idea that democratic stability in deeply-divided societies depends on expansive powersharing. Going all the way back to the foundational work of Arend Lijphart (1969), advocates of grand coalition-style powersharing have understood that these systems are susceptible to domination by “elite cartels,” trading off within the national political system for severely dampened democratic competition. Certainly, the PDP’s commitment to zoning has defused many intra-elite conflicts—including naming a successor for Obasanjo in 2007—that might have, in other times, led to widespread ethnic violence or even state breakdown. But the price has been the reinforcement of a patronage politics system that assumes the only way for a community to access the benefits of federal representation is for one of “their” members to gain entry to the state and channel resources back informally, most often at election-time. This system actually makes the “do-or-die” nature of politics at the state and local level worse, as the fight over control of federal largess has simply moved down into these contests. The result has been an explosion of ethnic and religious violence within the most-divided states, as local political entrepreneurs fight (often with the tacit approval of the national party) to maintain their positions at all cost.
Is the PDP still unbeatable?
So, is the challenge posed by the APC a symptom of the PDP’s decline, or a reflection of something else? One key factor is that, for the first time, the PDP has found its internal powersharing structure inadequate to the political task at hand. The system the PDP created depends on two key factors. One is the widespread belief that it will honor its zoning commitments. The second, of course, is that the rewards available to potential supporters outweigh any potential costs. On the first, the unexpected death of President Yar’adua in 2010 and the succession of Goodluck Jonathan threw off the rotational calendar, denying (in their eyes, at least), northern interests their “fair” eight years in office. The PDP’s inconsistent handling of this issue—sometimes suggesting that Jonathan would step down after winning his own term in 2011, other times not—helped to prime many of the party’s key northern supporters for defection if a viable opposition finally emerged. Combined with the Jonathan administration’s extraordinarily inept handing of the Boko Haram insurgency, something of a popular groundswell against the PDP in many northern states has pushed the PDP into an increasingly difficult (if hardly impossible) electoral map.
On the second issue, it’s unclear how much the decline in international oil prices—and the assumed decline in resources available for patronage—will impact the PDP (or its successor) going forward. It’s hardly surprising that much of the APC’s elite support has come from Lagos, where federal oil money is far less relevant to building and sustaining political coalitions. And of course, the reality is that even in a dramatically diminished form, oil revenues may still be worth fighting for from the perspective of many political networks, particularly given the lucrative opportunities available to state officials willing to look the other way as bunkering and smuggling expand.
Whatever the APC’s chances are in 2015, the powersharing status quo carved out by the PDP remains a useful, if no longer unstoppable, template for winning power in Nigeria. Indeed, in the absence of substantive changes to the formal powersharing rules around national elections or, more hopefully, a shift in the federal character expectations of many Nigerian voters, the PDP’s “big umbrella” model is likely to remain an attractive one for quite a while longer. Outward, strategic balancing remains a basic requirement in national politics even for parties, like the APC, which have tried to eschew it, a lesson learned as rumors of a “north/north” ticket slowly gave way to the vice-presidential nomination of Yemi Osinbajo, not only a southwesterner but a close political ally of Bola Tinubu, the mercurial former Lagos State governor who’s emerged as one of the APC’s primary patrons. For now, the realities of Nigeria’s “moral economy” of powersharing take precedence over all other concerns.
Matthijs Bogaards (2010), “Ethnic Party Bans and Institutional Engineering in Nigeria,” Democratization, 17:4, pp. 730-49.
Christopher Hart (1993), “the Nigerian Elections of 1983,” Africa, 63:3, pp. 397-418.
Richard Joseph(1987), Democracy and Prebendal Politics in Nigeria: The Rise and Fall of the Second Republic (New York: Cambridge University Press).
Brandon Kendhammer (2010), Talking Ethnic but Hearing Multi-Ethnic: The Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) in Nigeria and Durable Multi-Ethnic Parties in the Midst of Violence,” Commonwealth & Comparative Politics, 48:1, pp. 48-71.
Arend Lijphart (1969), “Consociational Democracy,” World Politics, 21:2, pp. 207-25.
Amanda Lea Robinson (2014), “National versus Ethnic Identification in Africa: Modernization, Colonial Legacy, and the Origins of Territorial Nationalism,” World Politics, 66:4, pp. 709–746.
Moses E. Ochonu
Nigeria's ruling People Democratic Party’s hold on power faces the fiercest test yet since Nigeria’s return to civilian rule in 1999. The so-called Fourth Republic has been plagued as much by opposition dysfunction as it has by the incompetent complacency of the ruling party, a deadly duality that has dimmed the prospects of political accountability in Africa’s most populous country. Nigeria’s alphabet soup of opposition parties is notorious for attrition and atrophy. In 2011, a deal to forge an alliance between the two main opposition parties — the Congress for Progressive Change and the Action Congress of Nigeria (both are now defunct, having merged, along with several smaller parties to form the All Progressive Congress, or APC) — unraveled at the last moment, enabling the ruling PDP to coast to a relatively easy victory.
The last-minute collapse of the alliance was a setback for oppositional politics in the short term as it forestalled the emergence of a potential touchstone for defeating the PDP. In 2013, the current opposition APC coalition coalesced from a number of fortuitous and calculated events. First, Muhammadu Buhari, the APC presidential candidate, and former Lagos State Governor Bola Tinubu, who has led opposition to the PDP since 1999, rekindled their failed coalition negotiations from 2011 and, after a series of meetings and complicated horse trading, birthed the APC. The new party, even more crucially, is not a typical election season coalition; it is the product of a full-fledged merger, which makes the development all the more remarkable considering the multiple egos and political estates at stake.
Second, a splinter group in the ruling PDP, which counted among its members five state governors, several senators, House of Representatives members, and several prominent Nigerians, elected to join the emerging opposition coalition rather than remain in the ruling party to work out its grievances with the main faction of the party. This swelling of the opposition rank meant shrinkage in the PDP. More consequentially, the APC gained valuable executive and legislative office holders who would help sustain the party financially. Unpredictable and unexpected, this development boosted the capacity of the APC to mobilize resources and personnel nationally.
Third, powerful, wealthy former Vice President, Abubakar Atiku, a founding member of the ruling PDP, left the party to join the APC. Mr. Atiku’s action capped a series of good political fortunes for the APC. The optical narratives produced by these events have had a phenomenal impact on the new party’s image and appeal, as many mainstream political actors yielded to the bandwagon momentum.
As the opposition has found its voice and stride, however, it has provoked new questions about the price of building a competitive opposition platform — or more precisely about the cost of engineering an opposition movement that is not organic but Machiavellian and unabashedly mercantilist in its quest for power.
As the backroom details of the dynamics that produced and continue to sustain the APC begin to seep out into the public sphere, it has become clear that this formidable opposition to the long regime of the PDP has come at enormous financial and moral cost to Nigeria and the party respectively. The financial cost refers to the fact that the rise of the APC and its strategic transformation into a wealthy, resource-heavy rival of the PDP was largely financed by largesse derived ultimately from state contracts and other rents collected by APC political officeholders. The party’s reliance on this stream of funding paradoxically instantiates the diversion of state resources that many Nigerians associate with the PDP incumbency and indicts the APC for normalizing similar rent seeking practices in its pursuit of power. The cost of amoral oppositional mobilizations is indexed by the hollowness of the opposition’s mantra of change, which casts the APC as parallel rather than dialectical to the PDP.
This point about oppositional moral compromises deserves substantiation. By all accounts, the main financial benefactors of the APC are the aforementioned Abubakar Atiku and Bola Tinubu, as well as Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, the governor of oil-producing Rivers State. Each of these men epitomizes a particular pathology of graft. Atiku, who has battled a reputation for corruption for years and has advanced several less-than-convincing explanations for his unaccounted wealth, was named in 2008 as one of several bribe takers in an SEC investigation into lucrative contracts obtained by Siemens in the Nigerian telecoms sector. Additionally, Atiku was named in a US Senate report as the mastermind of a $40 million money laundering scheme in 2010. Atiku was also named in connection with the case of convicted Louisiana Congressman, William Jefferson in 2006. Finally, in 2006, as Vice President, Mr. Atiku faced several allegations of corrupt enrichment associated with his chairmanship of a lucrative oil-sector training fund. The most damaging of these allegations came from and ricocheted back to then President Olusegun Obasanjo, as the two officials engaged in scorched earth exposures of each other’s involvements in corruption schemes.
Mr. Bola Tinubu, the national leader of the APC and its most influential power broker, is an equally shady political operative whose quest for power and influence brooks no moral or ethical strictures. Tinubu was governor of Lagos State, Nigeria’s commercial, aviation, and shipping hub, between 1999 and 2007. His tenure was marred by, and continues to be dogged by, allegations that he awarded lucrative revenue collection and construction contracts to his own companies. According to media reports, one of the companies alleged to be his fronts, Alpha Beta, continues to collect all the consequential revenues of Lagos State amounting to billions of naira monthly with little or no accountability and for a hefty commission (Hooffman and Nolte 2014: 41).
The current governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Fashola, is Tinubu’s political protégé and is believed to have preserved Tinubu’s access to lucrative state schemes and the networks of patronage that transfer public resources into the opposition’s political machine in Southwestern Nigeria. Mr. Tinubu’s ability to perfect the strategy of leveraging the rents that accrue to him from his political influence in Lagos enabled him to sponsor and subsequently enthrone his political godsons in four other Southwestern states as governors. This political haul enlarged the opposition’s field of patronage and rent seeking, which ultimately enabled Tinubu to midwife and fund the emergence of a competitive opposition in the form of the APC. Tinubu embodies the moral albatross that the APC is wrestling with as it tries to define itself as a departure from the PDP’s impunity and moral indifference. Tinubu’s biography is one of moral baggage and disrepute, and weighs heavily on the APC’s ongoing effort to define itself as the antithesis of the PDP. In 2008, Tinubu’s past life as an illicit operative in the seamy side of life in Chicago, USA, caught up with him. Starring a possible conviction after US DEA agents and the US Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois linked him to a heroin trafficking cartel, Tinubu entered a plea agreement with the US government and forfeited assets that US federal agents concluded were proceeds of narcotics trafficking.
Another alleged financier of the APC is Rotimi Amaechi, governor of Rivers State, whose state had been awash in oil money until the slump in crude oil prices. Mr. Amaechi, a feisty political adversary of President Goodluck Jonathan, is alleged have sold off his state’s assets worth tens of millions of dollars to fund the APC in the hope of securing the Vice Presidential slot of the APC presidential ticket. Moreover, Amaechi’s tenure has been marred by corruption scandals and allegations of political graft, the most spectacular of which occurred in 2008, when the governor’s then chief of staff, Nyesom Wike and the Secretary to the State Government, Magnus Abbe, were arrested and detained by Nigeria’s anti-corruption agency, the EFCC, for transferring public funds amounting to 300 million Naira into private bank accounts. Mr. Amaechi had personally led the effort that, according to one report, found a “political solution” — a euphemism for dealing with corruption scandals with bribes and illicit exchanges — to the scandal.
APC and The Dilemmas of Oppositional Mobilization
The dearth of a competitive, coherent, and organizationally astute opposition has plagued Nigerian democracy since 1999, and the need for a robust opposition to challenge the PDP oligarchy has been the single most important challenge for deepening and institutionalizing democratic culture in Nigeria. Without a credible, plausible opposition, elections are mere rituals of choiceless affirmations that enable incumbents to morph into tyrannical machines of corruption and elitism as state officials see no threat to their perch. The much sought-after viable opposition is here, finally (or so it seems), but at what cost, many observers ask.
The PDP’s financial advantage in political contests has been enormous and stems from its extra-constitutional access to state resources, since power in Nigeria, as in many African countries, translates to unfettered access to the state treasury in a neo-patrimonial system of coterminous personal and institutional resources. Most Nigerians agree that, for a credible challenge to the PDP’s rule to materialize, the party’s financial advantage needs to be confronted and neutralized. The question posed but rarely answered is how to do this outside state-funded political machines of patronage. Nigeria is a poster country for the role of money in politics. The absence of strict campaign finance regulation, the near total access that state officials have to funds at the federal and state levels, and the small size of the private sector all converge to create an environment that allows for political campaigns to be funded largely through illicit state resources.
Political parties rely on the illicit financial contributions of politicians elected to office on their platforms. When you throw the reality of mass poverty into this cauldron you have the perfect operational laboratory for elections that are literally for sale as political parties and candidates struggle to outdo one another in the race to provide financial inducement to potential voters. In recent months, politicians in both parties have sought to make permanent this mechanism of material gratification as a strategy for currying support. In the wake of the governorship elections in the southwestern state of Ekiti, which the candidate of the PDP, Ayodele Fayose, won, many political observers attributed his victory to the greater attention he allegedly paid to what has become known euphemistically as “stomach infrastructure,” an elaborate political praxis in which the supply of instruments of instant gratification replace long term promises and platforms as the gateway to popular — and populist — support.
Although that explanation is problematic, given that his opponent, the then incumbent APC governor, Kayode Fayemi, also distributed largesse to potential voters, Mr. Ayodele Fayose proudly embraced the narrative. He went even further. Fayose institutionalized “stomach infrastructure” as one of the cornerstones of his administration and appointed a paid aide to attend to the immediate material and consumptive needs of Ekiti citizens. Consequently, he established a directorate of stomach infrastructure, a not-so-subtle project for creating a permanent campaign structure predicated on the theory that the road to the hearts and minds of voters goes through their bellies. At the time, the APC’s political and intellectual wings sensationalized and mocked the blatant adoption of the ethos of material gratification by the PDP candidate and sought to invoke Fayose’s unabashed disposition to the politics of inducement as one more difference between the APC and the PDP. As of this moment, however, the opposition has fully entered the “stomach infrastructure” business, its investments in the infrastructure of material inducement now chronicled and archived alongside that of the PDP by a Facebook page dedicated to the most egregious, crudest manifestation of this phenomenon. (This page was started by Carleton University Professor of English, Pius Adesanmi, and political activist and commentator, Soni Akoji. Because of my longstanding research interest in the personalization, abuse, and commodification of power and in the crude, quotidian instruments of political patronage, I have joined the group as one of its administrators.)
Given his public persona as a man of integrity and as a man with the common touch, it remains to be seen as of the time of writing this essay whether Muhammadu Buhari, the APC presidential candidate, will allow the discursive and instrumental infrastructures of stomach gratification to define the spirit of his campaign.
This narrative illustrates one of the dilemmas that historically plagued all Nigerian oppositions, and especially ones as serious as the APC. The question is: what is an opposition outside the lucrative intestines of federal power to do to create the much-desired ubiquity and visibility? Nigerian electoral campaigns are not just about distributing party- and candidate-branded bags of rice, sugar, salt, and other instruments of inducement. They are also about numerous chartered private jets touring the country to rally the troops, as Nigeria’s road network has become unsafe for the volume and frequency of travel required by a presidential political campaign of big entourages. Elections are thus expensive businesses in which, traditionally, incumbents have had a decisive advantage over the opposition, the key financial tiebreaker being the control exercised by the central government over the allocation of oil revenues. This allocative prerogative enjoyed by incumbents often conduces to almost unchecked access to state resources, which are then leveraged to financially overwhelm the opposition.
The singular most important accomplishment of the APC in this election cycle has been to equalize the financial playing field, with the trio of Atiku, Tinubu, and Amaechi marshalling resources to put the APC almost on level terms with the PDP in the political spending index. Some pragmatic political observers praise this as a feat that, whatever the outcome of the election, may serve to neutralize the taken-for-granted financial advantage of political incumbency and refocus elections on policy, problems, and solutions. On the other hand, this success required the mobilization of resources from sources that are questionable and are animated by the patrimonial corruption associated with the status quo. These oppositional financial mobilizations recall and parallel the questionable political expenditures of the PDP, which are major talking points of the opposition, and which they routinely invoke to validate their call for change and a different direction for the country and its politics. As the APC has become like the PDP in its operations, this narrative has found less purchase among Nigerians.
This throws up the inevitable question of pragmatic choice versus idealistic preservation of contrast. In this context, should, and must an opposition desirous of capturing power necessarily lose its soul, so to speak, or take on the moral image of its incumbent adversary to stand a chance of dislodging that adversary? Must an opposition movement seeking viability essentially become a moral replica of the party it seeks to replace in power? If the answer is yes, there is one obvious implication: elections become meaningless, mere rituals for replacing the faces in power.
Seek Ye First the Political Kingdom
The moral consequences of challenging the status quo on its preferred terrain of money politics takes a toll on the moral content of the opposition’s message, blurring the distinctions between the incumbency and the opposition when the electorate try to separate the good from bad — or, as political commentator Pius Adesanmi prefers to say, the bad from the less bad. But the strategy bespeaks an old political tradition of prioritizing the capture of power above all else. A pan-African variant of this tradition is encapsulated in Kwame Nkrumah’s famous words about seeking the “political kingdom” of national liberation and power first and letting other concerns shake out as they may.
The APC seems to have taken Nkrumah’s counsel to heart. At the December, 2014 national convention of the party, the contest for its presidential ticket was a reminder of the dollar-laced political courtship that Nigerians associate with PDP conventions. Mr. Atiku, one of the presidential aspirants is widely reported to have given US$2,000 to each delegate to sway their vote. A delegate confirmed this and added scandalously that, to outdo Atiku and swing the delegates to Muhammadu Buhari, Mr. Tinubu and other leaders of the party who favored Buhari, “encouraged” “pro-Buhari [APC] governors” to “take care of their delegates better than Atiku” and that as a result of the ensuring duel of dollars, he and other delegates allegedly received an additional $3,000 from the pro-Buhari camp. Dramatic displays of PDP-esque politics of monetary bargains have the potential to dissolve the moral distinction between the two parties, equalize the moral fighting terrain, and cause observers to question whether the APC stands for anything substantially different from the political template perfected by the PDP. This is already happening and many citizens, including visible ones like respected columnist, Okey Ndibe, are increasingly pointing to the operational sameness between the two contending political parties — the widespread belief that the APC, for all its rhetoric, is a moral and ethical clone of the PDP.
This belief, if it endures, will undermine whatever credibility the APC may have garnered from emerging as a formidable threat to the 15-year stranglehold of the PDP. It may also engender apathy, a refusal to participate in the political process, an attitude that would be injurious in the long term to Nigeria’s quest for a democracy of an actively participating followership and citizenry. An additional drag on the image of the APC as it seeks to contrast itself morally and ethically to the PDP is the fact that not only has it actively courted and admitted into its membership disaffected members of the PDP, some of them with unresolved questions of corruption plaguing them, the party announced its collective, rebranded entrance into the national political arena by cutting what many Nigerians saw as corrupting and conscience-deadening deals with political figures widely seen as villains of Nigeria’s recent political history. (Former Kwara State governor, Bukola Saraki, epitomizes this phenomenon. One of the most prominent figures in the APC, the senator has been implicated in several corruption investigations into allegations that he raided banks, including his family’s defunct Societe Generale Bank, to fund his political and business empire. See here and here.)
Images of APC leaders paying several visits to these figures were broadcast and disseminated to a nation increasingly suspicious of the APC’s ability to live out its avowed mantra of change. Visits to former military dictator, Ibrahim Babangida, who has an outsized reputation for corruption and who carries the additional notoriety of having annulled what most Nigerians regard as Nigeria’s freest and fairest election to date, the 1993 presidential elections; and to former president Olusegun Obasanjo, who tried to change the constitution to secure a third term in office and who, like Babangida, has been dogged by several credible allegations of corruption since leaving office, were particularly potent as indicators of the APC’s difficulty in forging a different, new political paradigm.
The APC obviously cannot be judged outside of power at the national level, and perhaps it is the case that in order to dislodge the PDP and capture power, the party has no choice but to raid the PDP’s political toolkit. Perhaps the APC is wise to pragmatically — and materially — meet Nigerian voters where they are as opposed to expecting them to meet the APC in an imagined idealistic arena devoid of inducement and material gratification. Perhaps it is better and fairer to judge the APC on its record in power, which, should it win in 2015, will become apparent in no time. Moreover, should it capture central power in 2015, the APC will have an opportunity to redefine itself, move away from the politics of inducement, and inaugurate a new electoral strategy that is not enabled by the raiding of state resources and rent seeking and is thus unsubsidized by the neglect of social problems. Nonetheless, the eagerness with which the opposition is borrowing (pun unintended), some might say replicating, key instruments from the operational toolbox of the PDP raises serious questions about the capacity of an opposition victory to bring about fundamental change in Nigeria’s political culture.
Policy as Contrast
Nigerian elections are rarely decided on policy and programs, as ethno-religious and other primordial solidarities crowd out intelligent pre-election debates on policy. Nonetheless, given the moral and ethical parity between the two major parties, the policy terrain has emerged as a site of distinction, and APC appears to be capitalizing on this opening to separate itself from the PDP.
Before the APC kicked into full presidential campaign gear, the major concern of many political observers, including this writer, was that it was doing very little to differentiate itself in policy terms from the status quo, that it was articulating its platform in unedifying generalities, and that its presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, had no platform beyond a narrow, familiar, if powerful, idiom of personal integrity. In the last several weeks, this picture has changed, and the APC has unfurled a full menu of promises and policy platforms.
The APC’s presidential policy platform is surprisingly detailed in its analysis, policy prescriptions, and programmatic commitments. More crucially, the platform represents the sharpest contrast yet that the APC has drawn between itself and the ruling PDP. Its prescriptions for tackling the Islamist insurgency in the Northeast are underwhelming and within the parameters of measures already being implemented. Furthermore, an argument can be made that most of the policy prescriptions are over-determined by the debatable premise that all of Nigeria’s current challenges are reducible to corruption. Nonetheless, many prescriptions and promises are radical departures from the status quo.
One particularly courageous idea in the APC platform is that of defining, once and for all, the primacy of residency over autochthony in determining access to the rights and privileges of citizenship. Another radical and ideologically refreshing promise is that of instituting a system of welfare stipend payments to the aged, the physically challenged, the temporarily unemployed, out-of-college youths, and very poor citizens. The APC also promises to provide one meal a day to all primary school students and to substantially expand free access to healthcare for the most vulnerable Nigerians.
Questions remain about how the APC purposes to implement some of these impressively crafted programs in light of the falling price of crude oil, the major source of national revenue, the attendant depletion of Nigeria’s foreign reserves, and the collapse of the Naira. Nonetheless, Nigerian voters looking for substantive policy contrast between the APC and the PDP and desirous of a new set of policy trajectories will find much to like in the APC’s presidential election platform. Besides, all oppositions enjoy the unspoken luxury of overpromising and outlining every populist policy that could stand it apart from the incumbent government. Unlike the PDP, the APC has no national governmental record to run on, and that is an advantage that is often underappreciated.
Nigerians are unanimous about the current PDP government’s cozy dalliance with corruption and the corrupt. This is President Jonathan’s most vulnerable spot and ought to present the APC with a potent campaign rhetoric to flesh out its slogan of change. But having embraced the pragmatic, politically effective strategy of courting former members of the PDP and corrupt but influential political actors, and because the party’s most visible and influential operatives are individuals damaged by credible allegations of corruption, the APC finds itself unable to exploit that line of attack. The APC has blunted this potentially compelling anti-establishment critique and has taken the corruption narrative off the table because it does not want to be reminded of the pedigrees of its prominent members. Time will tell if the tradeoff will pay off.
Then there is the question of what will happen if the APC captures power at the center in 2015. Can it suddenly switch off its machine of patronage and resource mobilization and pursue a different trajectory of statecraft and political appeal? Political spending in Nigeria, as elsewhere, is an investment, with those who finance campaigns, political parties, and candidates expecting to recoup their investments once their party and candidate get into power. The question as we approach the elections then is whether a President Muhammadu Buhari could break free of those who funded his ascent? If he does not, would we simply have replaced the PDP with its operational clone? If he could sever his ties to the APC’s financial patrons and his political benefactors, especially the ambitious and powerful Mr. Tinubu, would they fight back and create internal troubles that would distract Buhari from the task of governing? There are no definitive answers to these questions, but, whatever happens, when we begin our post-election analysis, we will pivot back to the decision of APC to surrender the moral and ethical narrative in the interest of gaining political parity with the PDP.
Leena Hooffman and Insa Nolte, “The Roots of Neopatrimonialism: Opposition Politics and Popular Consent in Southwest Nigeria,” in Wale Adebanwi and Ebenezer Obadare, eds., Democracy and Prebendalism in Nigeria: Critical Interpretations (London and New York: Palgrave Macmillan , 2014), 25-52; 41.
The 2015 general elections offer yet another platform to engage with historical and contemporaneous issues in Igbo politics in Nigeria. As one of the three major ethnic groups in the country, the Igbo ethnic group is an important power bloc in the nation’s political equation. Yet, fifteen years after the return to civilian rule and the introduction of “Power Rotation”, the discourse on Igbo politics has continued to revolve around the strange inability of the Igbo to occupy the highest office of the land, and the notion that the Igbo do not have the strategies or mechanisms necessary for the realization of this feat. After the idea of “Power Rotation” entered the political lexicon in 1999, it appeared to offer all geopolitical zones the possibility of attaining any political office through the practice of rotational presidency and zoning of political offices in one form or the other. The practice is implicitly embedded in the structure of power relations within most political parties, and it is believed to be critical for party cohesion, inclusiveness and the accommodation of the various diversities in the nation.
Evidence suggests that the Igbos have not profited from these developments in a manner that will enable them attain the highest office of the land, and the tendencies at play in the dominant political parties has undoubtedly influenced political calculations in the southeast. Hence, the perception of “Igbo marginalization” has emerged and continues to gain momentum in the present political dispensation. This has become a buzzword partly due to the well-known and documented exclusion of the Igbo from the formal economy (Meagher 2009; 2010), and partly because the Igbo have only held the highest office of the land for just six months in the nation’s fifty-five year history. But what approximates a crisis in Igbo politics is the lack of a discernible strategy by Igbo political elites to negotiate power at the centre, and the perpetual inability to forge a viable agenda of re-entry into mainstream politics since the end of the Nigeria-Biafra War in 1970.
The aim of this paper is to examine Igbo politics within the context of the prevailing power configuration in Nigeria. The paper places Igbo politics within the context of the tri-polar power struggles or competition among the three major ethnic groups in Nigeria. A remarkable aspect of the Igbo condition is that while the elites of the other two ruling power blocs (the Yoruba, and Hausa-Fulani) in the polity recognize the historical political, social and economic significance of the Igbo faction of the Nigerian ruling class prior to 1970, they also realize that this faction mobilized and formed the core of the secessionist Republic of Biafra that was defeated in 1970. In the post-Civil War reconstitution of Nigeria, the Igbo faction of the ruling elite was eliminated as a power bloc as power relations assumed a zero-sum contest. On this basis, the victorious ethnic groups have remained in the “first circle” while the Igbo ethnic group has been subjected to the “second circle”, and the award of positions to the Igbo have largely depended on historical circumstances, the issues at stake, and the composition and structure of power relations at any given time (Madunagu 2003).
Since 1970, the Igbo, who constitute a major ethnic group and one vital leg in the tripod has been marginalised in the post-civil war order, and on account of certain positions adopted by successive military regimes in the 1980s and 1990s, the Igbo ethnic were relegated to the status of a minority ethnic group in Nigeria (Osaghae 2001: 3). This proposition is not entirely novel. What is relevant to my analysis is how the Igbo faction of the ruling elite has responded to this in a bid to eliminate this delineation, or at least collapse both circles into one. Contemporary manifestations of Igbo politics via Igbo ethnic organization, whether elite-led, conservative and reactionary in the form of Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo (the apex socio-political organization of the Igbo); or youth-based, radical and confrontational in the form of the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), have revolved around discourses of self-determination which is aimed at empowering Igbo claims and renegotiating the basis of Igbo citizenship in Nigeria. The failures and weaknesses of these attempts have reinforced the contradictions of Igbo politics, both at the elite and grassroots level, and have reinforced the clash of identities, especially ethnic identities in Nigeria.
The Igbo and the “Politics of the Centre” in the Post-Civil War Era
Three distinct phases are discernible in understanding post-civil war Igbo politics. The immediate phase focused on the institutional agenda of the “Three Rs – Reconciliation, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction” which was launched Federal Military Government (FMG) to shape the post-civil war Nigerian public space and reintegrate the Igbo into the Nigerian project. On the contrary, the marginalisation, alienation and distancing of the Igbo from the mainstream of national political and economic processes were observable from events at the national level, and this initiated questions on the future of the Igbo in the post-civil war reconstitution of Nigeria. The institutional and structural aspects of Igbo marginalisation were reflected in a string of policies which disadvantaged the Igbo include fiscal decrees like the Banking Obligation (Eastern States) Decree of 1970, and FMG-instituted Abandoned Properties Implementation Committee (APIC) which presided over the sale of Igbo properties outside Igboland.
This was immediately followed by the state creation phase under which Igboland and the only core Igbo state (East Central State) was progressively split into two, three and more states. Igbo elite clamour and agitation during this period found expression in state creation, as states became an important factor in the allocation of a wider range of social opportunities in the Nigerian federation. The last phase in this category captures Igbo agitations at the elite level to address the ‘Igbo Question’ in Nigeria, its share of the national patrimony, and the growing concerns about marginalisation, injustice and underdevelopment by the hegemonic group(s) that controlled federal power and oil resources in Nigeria. Within the context of structural adjustment and prolonged economic crisis, there was a push at the Igbo elite level to address the ‘Igbo Question’ and its share of the national patrimony. Through various fora, prominent Igbo groups like Ohanaeze and Aka Ikenga (a pan-Igbo socio-cultural think-thank) began to articulate the plight of the Igbo within the unfolding context, and the need to accommodate the Igbo in the Nigerian project.
Post-civil war Igbo politics was one of accommodation, incorporation and integration into the Nigerian project. These demands became intense as Nigeria approached the dawn of the Second Republic, and it was apparent, at least within the strategic calculations of the Igbo political elite and Ohanaeze to align with the ruling Shehu Shagari-led National Party of Nigeria (NPN) and submit to a subordinate role in the prevailing power configuration. The leadership of Ohanaeze saw the emergence of Dr. Alex Ekwueme (a fellow Igbo) as vice president under the Hausa-Fulani-led Shagari government, not only as a solution to the lack of leadership in Igboland, but as a means of re-connecting to mainstream politics at the national level. There was a rallying of Igbo positions behind Dr. Ekwueme, and Ohanaeze became strongly opposed to the Azikiwe-led Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP), arguing that Zik and other Igbos in NPP should accord recognition to Dr. Ekwueme as the highest elected official from Igboland. The political tendencies in Igboland became more complicated with Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu’s return from exile in 1982. Still intent on using his place in Igbo history to garner votes from his people, the ex-Biafran leader was unwilling to accept the pre-eminence of Zik in Igbo politics, the new leadership of Ekwueme in NPN and the political agenda of Ohanaeze. Ojukwu launched the ‘Ikemba Front’ as a partisan political organization in 1983 and tried to re-enact his leadership this time through the ballot box by seeking election into the Senate from where he could challenge Ekwueme’s leadership. But the project met its waterloo when his Senatorial District in Nnewi, Anambra State, rejected his candidacy.
Between the Presidency and Secession
Since 1970, the ‘Igbo Presidency Project’ has been central to the resolution of the ‘Igbo Question’ in Nigeria. The project is based on the assumptions of the ‘tripod theory’ which holds that stability can only be achieved in the Nigerian federation when there is a balance of power between the three major ethnic groups. Even so, the project has been spearheaded by Ohanaeze which has virtually no control of any registered political party and so no formidable candidate emerged from Igboland in the 1989-1993 Babangida transition programme. In 1999, Dr. Ekwueme came close to securing the PDP ticket and becoming the Nigerian president but his ambition was scuttled this time by those who favoured a Southwest candidate given the events of 12 June 1993.
By 2003, there were several political tendencies in Igboland that played out in different political parties at the time. The Igbo Presidency Project stalled again as Ohanaeze failed to articulate a coherent agenda, and could not determine whether to pursue the ambition within the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) or through another party. Over ten presidential candidates of Igbo ethnic extraction emerged in 2003, with Ojukwu of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), Ike Nwachukwu of the National Democratic Party (NDP), and Jim Nwobodo of the United National Independence Party (UNIP) as the prominent ones. The only realistic chance for an Igbo presidency still remained with Dr. Ekwueme whose late entry into the race ended with his defeat at the PDP National Convention. After 2003, it became clear that the Igbo Presidency Project was in a permanent state of crisis, partly because of the defeat of Ekwueme in the PDP primaries, and partly because of the failure of Ohanaeze to get the Igbo political class to agree to the idea of a single Igbo candidate in the elections. The crisis was further deepened when the former president of the organisation, Professor Joe Irukwu, nudged Ohanaeze towards endorsing the third term bid of President Obasanjo and other political office-holders at the Abakaliki Zonal hearing of the Constitutional Review Committee in 2006. This was considered a tacit approval of the President Obasanjo’s third term agenda and a sell-out by the Ohanaeze leadership on the ‘Igbo Presidency Project’ for 2007.
The advent of MASSOB in 1999 was partly a direct response to the perceived failure of the Nigerian state and successive governments to address the Igbo predicament since 1970, and partly a result of the failure of Ohanaeze who are perceived to be elitist, more moderate, and less ideological in their brand of Igbo nationalism. MASSOB initially declared categorically that it was not interested in politics, except a calculated desire to actualize their dream of a sovereign state of Biafra. But it was not long before the movement began to participate in partisan politics by supporting the emergence of Peter Obi, the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) candidate for governor, after the Elections Petitions Tribunal ruled in his favour against the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, Chris Ngige, in the controversial 2003 elections in Anambra state. Ralph Uwazuruike attributed MASSOB’s support for Governor Peter Obi to Ojukwu who mobilized the movement to support him. The movement later indicated its interest to participate in politics in Anambra State, Southeast Nigeria and at the national level, and supported the candidacy of the late Biafran leader for president in the 2003 and 2007 elections, and whoever gets his endorsement in the Southeast geopolitical zone.
The Igbo are not in the reckoning in the race for the presidency in 2015. A few months ago, a powerful delegation of Igbo leaders comprising the Secretary to the Federal Government, Deputy Senate President, Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, federal ministers of Igbo extraction, President General of Ohanaeze, President of Ndi Igbo Lagos, President of Aka Ikenga, and other eminent and prominent Igbo leaders met in Lagos to drum up support for President Goodluck Jonathan’s 2015 presidential bid. This was immediately followed by an attempt in January 2015 to adopt President Goodluck Jonathan as the consensus candidate of the Igbo at the Ime-Obi (inner caucus) meeting of Ohanaeze. It appears that while most prominent Igbo elites are clamouring for another term for President Goodluck Jonathan, the voices making the case for an Igbo president in 2015 are in the minority and are becoming feebler by the day. If President Jonathan succeeds, it means that by 2019, power would have been in Southern hands for 18 years, then all efforts will be geared towards displacing the Igbo as the North will see this as their natural turn to produce the president. This will mean that the Igbo will continue to wait in perpetuity for presidential power.
Surprisingly, some elements of the Igbo faction of the ruling elite are clearly disaffected, openly expressing their reservations and outright opposition to the idea of an Igbo president, especially those benefitting directly or indirectly from the current dispensation who would like the Igbo to remain in a subordinate position (second circle) indefinitely. But some are clamouring for an Igbo president as a way of re-admitting the Igbo elite into the arena of power (first circle) occupied by the two other ethnic groups. Even so, it must be noted that the Igbo Presidency Project and demand for incorporation is basically an invention of the Igbo faction of the ruling elite, and is not necessarily emancipatory. In theory, an Igbo president should augur well for the Igbo. But in reality, it may not because the Igbo elites, reminiscent of the elites of other ethnic groups, have a very narrow social base of power, and they do not enjoy the confidence of those whose interests they claim to represent, nor do they share in their common concerns and in the burdens of common citizenship.
Madunagu, E., 2003. Note on “Igbo Politics” and the Nation. The Guardian (Lagos), Thursday, February 27.
Meagher, K., 2009. “The Informalization of Belonging: Igbo Informal Enterprise and National Cohesion from Below”. Africa Development 34, 1, 31–46.
Meagher, K., 2010. Identity Economics: Social Networks & the Informal Economy in Nigeria. London: James Currey.
Osaghae, E., 2001. “From Accommodation to Self-Determination: Minority Nationalism and the Restructuring of the Nigerian State”. Nationalism and Ethnic Politics, 7, 1, 1-20.
In Nigeria, religion is the performance of politics by other means. A recent event unambiguously demonstrates this truism. The Holy Ghost Service (HGS) is a massive ritual held every first Friday of the month by the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) at its expansive, 1,540 hectares-“Miracle City” otherwise called the Redemption Camp. During the first edition of the HGS held on 2 January 2015, the patriarch of the church, Enoch Adejare Adeboye, instructed his teeming audience to obtain their Permanent Voters Cards (PVC). Further, he instructed them to bring their PVC to church service on the first Sunday of January for prayers. During the Holy Ghost Congress held by the church from December 8-13 2014, Adeboye made a similar announcement from the pulpit; on that occasion, he held up his and his spouse’s PVCs for his audience to see, a visual evidence that he intends to vote in the coming elections. By encouraging his congregation to obtain their own PVCs, Adeboye is exercising his civic responsibility – as a moral and religious gatekeeper -- by ensuring that the Christian community in Nigeria participates fully in the elections of 14 February 2015. However, by instructing Christians to bring their PVCs to church on Sunday 4 January 2015, Adeboye is transgressing the boundaries of civic duties; he has effectively turned his church into a micro-political infrastructure. Similar to his political engagements and adventures since 1999, Adeboye is performing a strategic political power play; he is informing all political stakeholders that he has the power to sway the voting patterns and outcomes in the next general elections.
In a 2010 study, Tolerance and Tension, The Pew Foundation found that almost 67% of Nigerians support religious leaders expressing public views on political issues. By his actions, Adeboye fulfils public expectations; however, more than that, he strategically repositions himself and the organisation he leads to be relevant to the outcome of the next general elections in Nigeria. Religion is a critical instrument to political capture in Nigeria. Right from the inception of the Fourth Republic in 1999 when Adeboye informed the nation -- with palpable hubris -- that “whoever wants to become the president of Nigeria must come and consult us”, any politician who had contested for the highest elective post in the land and won had literally come to the Miracle City to consult him. Democratic elections are a game of numbers, and Adeboye is a religio-political tactician who never ceases to display the visible political power at his disposal. The ability to mobilise large congregants is an electoral resource.
Religion has played an increasingly pivotal role in the ongoing electioneering. The same Pew research cited above reports that about 83% of Nigerians are happy with politicians who hold strong religious views and express these publicly. In other words, a majority of Nigerians find it acceptable when their political leaders “have strong religious views” (p.52). The intersection between religion and politics, therefore, is taken for granted even though it is one element in the architecture of instability in Nigeria.
Religion is an explicit source of pre- and post-election conflicts in Nigeria. In the immediate aftermath of the last general elections held in 2011, violence broke out in some parts of northern Nigeria that targeted “religious others” resulting in the death of more than 800 persons and destruction of property, including 350 Christian worship places, worth several millions of dollars, according to Human Rights Watch.
Different aspects of Nigerian laws regulate the manner religion, religious identities and motifs are mobilised in electioneering campaigns. For example, section 102 of the Electoral Act of Nigeria (2010) states as follows:
Any candidate, person or association who engages in campaigning or broadcasting based on religious, tribal or sectional reason for the purpose of promoting or opposing a particular political party or the election of a particular candidate, is guilty of an offence under this Act and on conviction is liable to a maximum fine of
N1,000,000 or imprisonment for twelve months or both.
Despite this, it is impossible to keep religious considerations out of elections. For instance, perhaps the single most important credential of the presidential candidate of the ruling political party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), and the incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan, as portrayed in the media and by his supporters, is that he is a Christian. The second attribute is that he is a southerner from a “minority ethnic group”, the Ijaw in the Niger Delta from where Nigeria’s oil wealth is physically located. (The Ijaw are the fourth largest ethnic group in Nigeria and can in no way be called a “minority”.) As a prelude to his active electioneering campaign, President Jonathan has visited large Christian congregations in different parts of southern Nigeria to sell his candidacy and secure the endorsement of religious leaders. His wife, Dame Patience Jonathan, has followed in his footsteps, visiting in November 2014 the popular Catholic congregation in eastern Nigeria, the Adoration Centre. As a strategy of securing the votes of the Christian bloc, particularly the vociferous Pentecostal subset, the presidency and the PDP have successful appropriated the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) under the leadership of the Pentecostal pastor Ayo Oritsejafor. Founded on 26 August 1988, CAN is a loose group of Christian churches with three primary goals of defending and protecting the rights of Christians in Nigeria, facilitating Christian ecumenism, and engaging in sustained dialogue with the Muslim community. In September 2012, the Catholic Bishops conference of Nigeria (which is one of five blocs within CAN), withdrew its membership of CAN, claiming that the “original vision, mission and objectives of CAN” had been compromised. According to the Catholic body, “CAN is being dragged into partisan politics, thereby compromising the ability to play its true role as the conscience of the nation and the voice of the voiceless”. The appropriation of CAN by the presidency and the PDP effectively turns the association into “PDP at prayer” with the objective of mobilising vote during the 2015 elections. While Jonathan campaigns to secure the Christian votes in the next election, his vice presidential candidate and incumbent vice president of the country, Namadi Sambo, a Muslim from Kaduna State, campaigns to secure Muslim votes in the north of Nigeria.
Dividing the Pentecostal Electorate
Muhammadu Buhari, a retired military general who ruled Nigeria from 1983 to 1985 is Jonathan’s principal opponent in the 2015 presidential election. He is the candidate of the All Progressive Congress (APC), an amalgam of the four largest opposition parties. Although he has made three previous unsuccessful attempts at clinching the nation’s topmost job, he is consistently portrayed by a section of southern press and PDP loyalists as primarily a Muslim fundamentalist and dictator who intends to impose the Sharia criminal code on all parts of Nigeria. Known for his piety – which is consistent with what a majority of Nigerians expect of their political leaders – Buhari is dogged by an image of a fanatical Muslim with an agenda to Islamise Nigeria should he become a popularly elected president. To discredit Buhari, opponents charge him with having links to or financing the violent Boko Haram insurgency in northeast of Nigeria, charges he has consistently denied. The power to religiously define Buhari and shape public perception of him has become an electoral resource for the ruling political party.
Buhari’s vice presidential candidate, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, is a former Commissioner of Justice and attorney general of Lagos State (1999-2007). A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Osinbajo is an unknown political quantity with little political experience. However, his most important credential is his religious affiliation. He is a Christian from Lagos; more importantly, he is a senior pastor of the RCCG (and resident pastor of Olive Tree House of Prayer for all Nations, Banana Island, Lagos), the same Pentecostal church whose patriarch instructed his followers to bring their PVCs for prayers! Osinbajo is positioned to moderate or neutralise the perception and construction of Buhari as a Muslim fundamentalist with sympathies for the dreaded Boko Haram. Specifically, Christians in northern and central Nigeria who have endured most of religious violence since 1999 may have some confidence and reassurance in the choice of a Pentecostal leader as the vice presidential candidate to Buhari.
The political calculus that informs the choice of Pastor Osinbajo cannot be divorced from the desire of APC to divide the Christian political market or voting bloc. Enoch Adeboye is a publicly known PDP sympathiser who calls Goodluck Jonathan his “son”. He endorsed Jonathan in 2011 and publicly campaigned for Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999/2003. Jonathan has visited Adeboye’s “Miracle City” on at least three occasions. To pick a pastor from the powerfully and economically powerful RCCG as Buhari’s running mate is a shrewd and religiously informed political move to checkmate the dominant PDP, which relishes the official endorsement of the church. Founded in 1952, the RCCG is arguably the largest Pentecostal franchise in Nigeria with nearly 20,000 branches in the country and a self-reported membership of five million, and over 11,000 branches in 163 countries. It is the wealthiest religious organisation and the largest single private property owner in Nigeria.
The nomination of Osinbajo as Buhari’s running mate, therefore, positions him and the APC as the first choice of RCCG members in the next election. Religion, rather than ideological consideration, is the most significant variable, and therefore a political capital in the campaign strategy of the APC. What the choice of the APC does, however, is to exacerbate religious politicking in the next elections. The two dominant parties will intensify their electioneering campaign activities around the mobilisation of religious and primordial identities rather than the consideration of political and ideological capital necessary for the articulation of programmatic actions to deal with the myriad problems and challenges facing Nigeria. Religion, rather than fade away or be relegated to the background, is in the foreground and will increasingly polarise the electorate in the February 2015 elections.
The role of religion in the forthcoming elections is not confined to the struggle for power between Christians and Muslims, nor to the presidential contest. In Lagos State, politicians have invoked religion as a criterion for the selection of gubernatorial candidates. Because of the cosmopolitan character of Lagos State, religion had played an inconsequential role in its gubernatorial politics, at least until very recently. Folarin Shobo, the director of Civic and Political Affairs of the Anglican Diocese of Lagos Mainland ignited the religious fuse when he instructed Christians in Lagos State to insist on a Christian politician as governorship candidate in the next election. He wanted power to shift from being in Muslim hands to Christian hands. The Lagos State chapter of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN), an umbrella association of Pentecostal churches established in 1991, similarly agitates for a Christian governor of Lagos State. The chairperson of the PFN in Lagos, Apostle Alex Bamgbala, claims that because Christians make up the majority of the state’s citizens, the Muslim community needs to support the quest for a Christian governor. Politicians from the two major parties are expanding the arguments and counter arguments on religious affiliation of candidates for elective offices in the state. The underlying assumption is that to be a Christian is a sufficient criterion for creditable political performance.
A similar furore is brewing over the 2015 elections in Enugu State in Eastern Nigeria, a predominantly Christian region. The tussle is not between Christians and Muslims; rather it is between Anglicans and Catholics within a single party, the PDP. As in Lagos State, the Archbishop of Enugu Ecclesiastical Province, Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion, Emmanuel Olisa Chukwuma, started the public debate by claiming that a Catholic-Catholic gubernatorial ticket for the state amounts to the marginalisation of the Anglican community. The Archbishop wants a deputy governorship candidate from within the Anglican Communion. The clergyman and his colleagues portrayed Enugu State as comprising two Christian denominations, Anglicans and Catholics, a position that effectively erased and discounted the presence of other religious groups, Christian and non-Christian. Such erasure amounts to a symbolic electoral violence. The raging acrimony illustrates the absurd depths to which religious (balancing) has become institutionalised in the thinking and scheming of both religious and political elite in Nigeria as the 2015 elections draw near. Privileging the denominational affiliation of a candidate for political office over other possible qualifications may promote mediocrity even though it may also show religion to be a source of political values desired by a section of the electorate.
Perhaps, never before has religious identities been more intensely mobilised towards electoral politics in the country. On January 1 2015, the spiritual director of the Adoration Centre in Enugu, Rev. Fr. Ejike Mbaka, instructed his teeming congregation to vote out Goodluck Jonathan from office because the incumbent president has failed Nigerians on all scores: security, alleviation of poverty, and fight against corruption. He told worshippers that after long hours of prayers, God has rejected Jonathan, saying, “Goodluck’s office, let another take… The continuity of Jonathan means disaster to Nigeria”.
The will to (political) power is inbuilt in religion. As Nigeria approaches the next round of elections in February 2014, it is increasingly clear to observers that religion is politics and politics is religion. It is impossible to keep the two spheres of practices apart. The pivotal role which religion plays in Nigerian elections is a commentary on the country’s quest for real democracy that privileges the will of the people to decide on how they are governed, how commonly owned resources are distributed and accounted for. That religious elites who, ordinarily, should be at the forefront of decrying the undue deployment of divisive religious identities in politics are at the forefront of igniting such controversies, illustrates a deep-rooted structural dysfunction. It demonstrates the poverty of intellectual engagement with conceptual, philosophical and ideological nature of the national issues confronting the country. Furthermore, discounted in the ongoing debates about religious affiliations of political candidates are members of African indigenous religions as well as non-religious persons (such as humanists). As incendiary and fractious as it has been, political and religious elites manipulate religion for political and economic benefits. When Adeboye asked his church members to bring their PVCs to church for prayers, it is a clear performance of the electoral power of the RCCG. It is a step removed from divine legitimation of the electoral process and its outcomes. In a dramatic sense, he has declared himself a political godfather and kingmaker in the ongoing electioneering season. Not many politicians will ignore the invitation to reckon with the church.
At no time in the history of Nigeria has any part of it become ungovernable or captured by political insurgents before or during elections or inaccessible for voting at election period. The 2015 general elections are different. Some parts of the Northeast have succumbed to the marauding forces of Boko Haram- an initial rag-tag lumpen forces, who have overtime gained strength and capacity and now virtually over-run the Nigerian security establishment capturing not only towns and cities in the country, killing, maiming and destroying properties but also capturing military bases, seizing military weapons, and assuming an informal parallel security apparatus in the country. Undoubtedly, Nigeria is not only confronted with a terror challenge but also a budding challenge of state failure. The military is the foundation of the state, and the inability of the state to protect lives, property and guarantee public security questions its essence and raison d'être. This failure is a manifestation of a large political problem- the crisis of governance, which has bedeviled the country in the larger part of its post-colonial history, but now threatens the foundation and existence of the Nigerian state. In 2014, Nigeria was in the first twenty bracket of the Fund for Peace fragile states Index, formerly the Failed States Index (Fund for Peace, 2014).
This paper examines the challenges posed by the Boko Haram insurgency as a way of illuminating the crisis of governance in Nigeria, and its implications for the 2015 general elections and its aftermath. Undoubtedly, the security and sanctity of the corporate existence of the Nigerian state is being questioned; its fundamental principle of secularism, a constitutional core, is under attack; peaceful, free and fair elections may be in jeopardy as public security is threatened with a sizeable part of the country buckling under Boko Haram's might; and the prospects of the elections promoting political elite consensus and halting the drift towards the collapse of the Nigerian state looks rather uncertain. In other words, can there be free, fair, credible and inclusive elections in the current political milieu in Nigeria? What possibility exists for the elections to be a "game changer" in terms of improving the quality of governance and halting the drift towards what appears to be a failing state project?
Boko Haram and the National Question:
From inception, the Nigerian project has been dogged by serious political crisis, which in its multifaceted nature, is aptly described as the 'national question'. The national question is shorthand for how the social pact amongst the different groups, communities and nationalities in the country should be negotiated and how the state should be constituted? Issues of central importance to the discourse on the national question are; what should be the relationship between the centre and the regions or states? What should be the interface between the state and religion? How should powers and resources be distributed between the centre and the periphery? How should political parties be organized? What kind of political and electoral systems should the country adopt and how could they guarantee political inclusiveness, participation and accountability? And what should be the ideological thrust of the Nigerian state? Should it be a crass capitalist country with a vile liberal democratic system or a social democratic system with some public conscience and interest? Although this debate is as old as the Nigerian state, however, it is one that the political elite, rapacious in its character, has repeatedly foiled, or refused to take an inclusive approach to, to be influenced and led by the people. Rather, the tendency has been to either avoid or manipulate the discourse to fit specific outcomes with little or n no tangible relevance to the realities of the country. Put differently, the political elite in Nigeria lives in denial, of the growing frustrations and dissensions of the people, and the nature of the social pact under which they exists, which continues to fuel conflicts and have taken on a more violent character in recent times.
The various separatist tendencies in Nigeria seek expression in the national question. The Nigerian civil war (1967-1970), separatists groups like the Movement for the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), the Niger Delta insurgent groups and now the Boko Haram militants are all progenies of the national question, exacerbated by the crisis of governance in the country. Opportunities have existed for a meaningful discourse to take place on the national question but largely truncated. The immediate post civil war era was one of such; it afforded an opportunity to re-draft the terms and conditions of the social pact beyond what was foisted on the country by the colonial regime and massaged in the immediate post-colonial era from 1960. Rather, what was done was to adopt an empty slogan of "no victor; no vanquished" in the rehabilitation and reconstruction process without addressing the deep-seated contradictions of the Nigerian state that ignited the civil war in the first instance. The pains of the war continue to linger on, which forms part of the rationale for the re-emergence of a separatist group like MASSOB. The Babangida regime also rigmarole on the national question through the political bureau it established in 1993. While the regime promised an all-inclusive dialogue that may in a sense address the national question, the whole process was a "show piece" meant to perpetuate the personal rule of a military dictator. The Abacha regime was soon to follow path and so was the Obasanjo regime. As such, the national question lingers on, with serious national issues unresolved and political pretensions by the ruling elite that all is well.
The origins of Boko Haram remain a contested issue. However, a popular version is that Boko Haram was a creation of a segment of the Nigerian political elite, which established the group as a militia force meant to serve political purposes- in intimidating and harassing political opponents, rigging elections, and providing macho security protection for those political leaders. However, whatever may be its sources, Boko Haram was soon to gain a life of its own, as religion became the new anchor of an erstwhile political group. Being a predominantly Islamic society, religion is a hot cake in Northern Nigeria, which constitutes a veritable tool of social mobilization.
Even with adaptation to religion, the quest of Boko Haram remains essentially political. The capture of space and territory; the urge to establish an Islamic caliphate; and the quest to impose new norms and governing codes in those spaces is nothing but a political project. As such, Boko Haram is not a fanatical religious group; it is a political organization bent on a political cause. Religion only serves a tool of social mobilization and recruitment of its gullible foot soldiers in its political project.
The national question relates to the Boko Haram saga because in spite of the constitutional provision on secularism, the relationship between the state and religion remains unresolved. The Nigerian state preaches secularism but is deeply involved in religious matters. It constructs religious sites for the two prominent religions; political leaders’ court and cow-tow to religious leaders; religious groups are frontiers for electioneering and vote catching; and how far should the legal codes be based on religious persuasions remains largely unsettled. The adoption of Sharia law in some Northern States was one of the most controversial issues in Nigeria under the Obasanjo regime (1999-2007). Federalism was interpreted to mean that different states can adopt different modes of governance including on the interface between the state and religion. However, rather than open the issue for public discussion through a national dialogue as one of the issues involved in the national question, Nigeria's ruling elite traded it away in their wily-dilly negotiations. Boko Haram is an escalation of that fault line of political misgovernance in Nigeria.
Governance Crisis and the Growth of Boko Haram
The crisis of governance in Nigeria, which assumes historical dimensions, is well documented (Adejumobi, 2011, 2010; Adebanwi and Obadare, 2010; Maier, 2000; Soyinka, 1996; Joseph, 1988; Achebe 1984). It relates to how power is managed that does not serve the greatest good of the greatest number of people in the country. Issues of massive corruption, abuse of power, institutional and procedural subversion including election rigging, and rights abuses are part of the crisis of governance in Nigeria. The crisis of governance has undoubtedly prevented Nigeria from realizing its potentials and capacity as a nation-state in spite of the oil wealth of the country. While official data suggests that the Nigerian economy grew for an average of about 7% for about a decade (2004-2014), this has neither been inclusive nor beneficial to the mass of the citizens. As the African Development Bank, the OECD and UNDP noted in their joint report, "Nigeria faces an ongoing challenge of making its decade-long sustained growth more inclusive. Poverty and unemployment remain prominent among the major challenges facing the economy. One reason for this is that the benefits of economic growth have not sufficiently trickled down to the poor". The World Bank (2014) estimates that poverty level in Nigeria was 46% in 2010; and access to source of water by the rural population grew marginally from 45% in 2008 to 49% in 2012.
The reality is that the governance crisis in Nigeria goes beyond lifeless data and statistics; it is more about how the opportunities of a country for decades have been squandered; how public infrastructure of good roads, energy and health services have virtually disappeared; how public education for primary to tertiary level is in dare straits; and how human capital invested heavily in, in the larger part of the post-colonial history of the country is either lost to brain drain or domestically under-utilized. The potentiality of a great country is more imagined than real.
The Boko Haram insurgency has tended to feed on the governance crisis in Nigeria in several important respects. First, the massification of illiteracy and poverty in Northern Nigeria provides a fertile base for Boko Haram to recruit young Nigerians that are either uneducated, denied a living, or disgruntled with the system. It appeared therefore not difficult for Boko Haram to secure an 'army of recruits' prepared to do battle with the Nigerian state. Second, the corrosion of institutional capacity has affected many institutions especially the Nigerian security services. The Nigerian military reputed to be one of the best on the African continent and the third world that has quelled wars and insurgencies in countries with rougher terrains like Liberia, and Sierra Leone and highly appreciated in those countries is looking hapless and helpless with the Boko Haram insurgency. It is unclear whether the military inertia is a function of leadership direction or lack of it, the internal weaknesses of the armed forces and poor military hardware to do battle or complicity of the military itself. The president of the country, Jonathan Goodluck puts the problem at the doorstep of the military. He has repeatedly alleged that the military has been infiltrated by Boko Haram elements and there is sabotage going on in the Nigerian military establishment (see, People's Daily, 12th January 2015). Whatever it is, the Nigerian military appears to be losing the battle against Boko Haram and the president as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces has overall responsibility for military performance.
Boko Haram in about three years has killed over 16, 000 people, destroyed many villages and towns, captured and murdered innocent school children, destroyed schools, markets and the livelihood of many citizens and families and indiscriminately attacked religious sites especially churches and mosques mostly in Northern Nigeria. It has also shown the propensity to extend its reach to any part of the country, and therefore cannot be regarded as a Northern problem; it is a Nigerian problem. As some analysts’ have righted concluded, Boko Haram is a product of systemic corruption, poor governance and institutional failure (Asfura-Heim, 2015; Forest, 2012).
The national question is the hardware of the Nigerian crises, while the crisis of governance, is its soft underbelly. Both combined provides a debilitating condition and context for the 2015 general elections in the country.
The 2015 General Elections: Issues and Implications.
The last general elections in Nigeria in 2011 were adjudged one of the few fair and credible elections in the country. This was due not so much to the improved institutional efficiency and capacity of the electoral commission but more of leadership commitment of the organization and partnership with non-state actors’ especially civil society. Areas in which civil society organizations assisted the Commission in the 2011 elections according to Attahiru Jega (2012) included, voter education programmes, voter registration, election observation, monitoring of the voting and counting processes through the election situation room and various post- election activities.
While there were documented cases of election rigging during the 2011 elections, they were essentially regarded as of "permissible" level especially for a country dogged by a history of failure in election management. However, unlike the 2011 elections, fears and apprehensions characterize the build up to the general elections of February 2015.
The International Crisis Group describes the 2015 elections as "Nigeria's dangerous elections" (ICG, 2014). The reasons for this are varied. First, the possibility of violence is very high as the stakes are high too. The parties are sharply divided into two camps- the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) and the opposition coalition party-the All People's Congress (APC). Second, there is a possibility that elections may not hold in about three states- Bornu, Adamawa and Yobe where the government has declared a state of emergence and Boko Haram's attacks are very impactful. If this happens, which is likely to be the stronghold of the opposition party, the election results may be contested and possibly rejected, which may fuel violence in the country. Third, in high stake elections, the employment of armed gangs and militia groups by politicians and parties is not uncommon in Nigeria which may exacerbate the level of violence. In his report to the United Nations Security Council, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General in West Africa showed apparent concern on the security environment in which the elections will take place in Nigeria. He noted, "About a month from now, Nigerians will go to the polls for the presidential and legislative elections. The general election is taking place against a backdrop of violent insurgency by Boko Haram in the North-east and sectarian conflicts in the North Central and the North West as well as an increasingly tense pre-electoral environment.” (See, The Guardian, 10th January 2015:1).
Preparations by the electoral commission have also not given much to cheer about on the prospects of the elections. Hemmed in overwhelming concern of a country with national security, the electoral commission itself has not been unaffected. The preparations have been patchy despite repeated assurances that the elections will be better than the previous one. Few weeks to the elections, voters’ registrar is still not on display and people are yet to verify their names on the list. The logistics of reaching areas already under the control of Boko Haram is still also not sorted out. INEC had initially raised the alarm that if the current trend of attacks continued, there may not be voting in some parts of the country. If that were to happen, it would be a recipe for chaos and political catastrophe.
There is a tendency that voter turnout may be high during the elections. Opinion survey suggests that the citizens are ready and prepared to vote, and their level of enthusiasm for the elections is high as well, however, their level of trust in the electoral authority for their votes to count is rather limited (see, Afrobarometer, January, 2015).
There are three critical issues that will determine the course of the 2015 general elections. First, is the possibility of Boko Haram disrupting the elections and inflicting serious casualties on the electorate, as the country is currently witnessing, which may put the entire elections in jeopardy. Boko Haram has shown an audacious capacity to strike and inflict painful damages on both soft and hard targets including military bases and government departments even in the capital city-Abuja. Second is the possibility of elections not holding in some parts of the country which may fuel suspicion that the elections were programmed to fail in the first instance with a pre-determined outcome. This may generate intense conflicts and crises in the country. Third, if there is a high level of rigging during the elections it may create frustrations on the part of the electorate, which may generate unintended consequences if not well managed.
These three critical issues have to be taken care of, if Nigeria's most important elections in the 21st century are not have grave consequences for its existence as a nation-state.
The 2015 general elections put Nigeria on the precipice. In a sense, the elections especially at the federal level are a rare public referendum on public security since national security is a responsibility of the federal government. A major concern of the electorate in many parts of the country is on how can the state guarantee their security? In other words, the raison d'être of the state is what is mostly at stake in the 2015 general elections. Boko Haram through its deadly and audacious attacks has shaped the discourse, the fears and the appetite of the people for the elections; it could as well, if care is not taken, subvert the elections.
Beyond the elections, the contradictions of the Nigerian state that has made possible the emergence of groups like Boko Haram need to be squarely addressed. The extent to which the current fears will shape public policy in the post-election era, and ensure that open and critical debate is facilitated by the federally elected government on the nation question, led and managed by the people, and not massaged and manipulated by the political elite, and its outcome fully respected and implemented, will determine how far forces like Boko Haram can be neutralized and the ideology of hate, fear and blood which they represent and propagate is fully addressed and completely whipped out of the social and political life of the country.
* Disclaimer: The views expressed in this essay are personal and in no way represent that of the UNECA, the United Nations or any other organization.
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Akin Adesokan is a novelist, essayist, and scholar of African and postcolonial literature and cinema at Indiana University, Bloomington. His books include Roots in the Sky, a novel, and Postcolonial Artists and Global Aesthetics.
Rudolf Gaudio teaches anthropology at Purchase College, State University of New York, and was recently a Fulbright research scholar at the FCT College of Education, Zuba, Nigeria. He is the author of Allah Made Us: Sexual Outlaws in an Islamic African City. His current research focuses on language, nation and race in Nigeria’s planned modernist capital, Abuja.
Brandon Kendhammer is assistant professor of political science at Ohio University, and author of numerous articles on Nigerian politics.
Moses E. Ochonu is an Associate Professor of African History at Vanderbilt University. He is the author, most recently, of Colonialism by Proxy: Hausa Imperial Agents and Middle Belt Consciousness in Nigeria (2014), and Africa in Fragments: Essays on Nigeria, Africa, and Global Africanity (2014).
Godwin Onuoha is an African Humanities Research Associate at the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies (PIIRS), Princeton University
Ebenezer Obadare is associate professor of sociology at the University of Kansas.
Said Adejumobi is currently Director, Sub-Regional Office for Southern Africa, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) based in Lusaka, Zambia.
Asonzeh Ukah, a historian/sociologist of religion, teaches at the University of Cape Town, South Africa.