Why Nigeria Should Cancel its Presidential Election Next Month


Nigeria is scheduled to hold elections in February 2015. They should be postponed.

The country is heading into these elections with insufficient preparation, extreme tensions, and wracked by Boko Haram, the brutal Islamist insurgency whose murders and kidnappings have shocked the world. Yet there is no national consensus in Nigeria on how to deal with this insurgency, and no one seems prepared to confront it as the national crisis it is. Instead the matter has become deeply politicized, as competing regional factions accuse each other of active complicity with the terrorists.

What outsiders often fail to grasp is that this grim situation is merely the symptom of a deeper malaise: a breakdown of the informal consensus on power sharing between the Muslim north and the Christian south that had guided Nigerian politics for decades. This makes the upcoming contest for the presidency especially fraught, as the incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the south, seeks re-election after six years in power.*

Meanwhile, the army, once a source of national cohesion and pride, has become profoundly corrupt, and in its campaign against Boko Haram it is carrying out human rights violations that nearly rival those of the jihadists in their viciousness and impact on the population. Finally, the rapidly dropping price of oil — which fuels political patronage, serves as the basis of the national budget, and drives foreign exchange earnings — will intensify the competition for both power and access to that resource, while likely worsening poverty for the vast majority of Nigerians.

Elections would normally be the way for a nation to chart a path forward to solutions for these problems. The emergence of two strong contending parties, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressive Congress (APC), augurs well for that outcome.** Much of the current international support for Nigeria is aimed at helping make the approaching elections more credible, in the hope that the country can come together to face its greatest problems once the vote is past.

But a recent delegation of experts sponsored by the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute found serious gaps in election preparations. One of the biggest problems: How to ensure voting for the nearly one million people displaced or controlled by Boko Haram in the northeast, an area of likely support for the opposition. The NDI/IRI delegation also reports an influx of arms to areas into volatile areas like the Niger delta, a stronghold of the PDP. (The photo above shows security forces at an APC rally in Kaduna on Jan. 19.)

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Foreign Policy


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