Nigeria Forum: why are the stakes so high for the 2015 elections? – By Idayat Hassan
The 2015 general elections in Nigeria will define the country. Speculation about a crisis that may ensue in the post-election period is rife. Irrespective of which political party emerges victorious to form the national government, the south-north divide, zoning, religion and other factors could have a significant effect in the aftermath of the polls.
Identity has always played a prominent role in Nigerian elections. This situation has been further exacerbated in the prelude to 2015 as ethnic and religious entrepreneurs capitalize by whipping up such sentiments. At the heart of this is the power sharing and rotation equation between different groups divided along regional, ethnic and religious. This, however, takes different dimensions at different levels of government.
At the national level the bifurcation is along the North – South divide. This is fueled by the power-sharing agreement within the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) called “˜zoning’. Under this agreement, power is expected to alternate between the North and South, however the death of former President Umaru Yar’Adua’s put the agreement in disarray, not only did his then vice president Goodluck Jonathan utilize his unexpired tenure, but also contested and won the election in 2011 (with an alleged agreement that he would not seek re-election in 2015.)
The issue of identity also plays out at the state level. The politics of attrition – “our turn, we are the largest group, we produce the most resources” – is easily observable. This syndrome, coupled with the marginalization card, is strongly played by ethnic zones and religious groups. But identity is quite fluid within the Nigeria context and ethnicity, religion or geo- political identity can fade away when necessary.
The upcoming 2015 general elections differ from the 2011 polls in part due to the emergence of the All Progressive Congress (APC). The country can now be said to be a two party state. In the 2011 general elections, four major parties, including PDP, ACN, CPC and ANPP, contested the elections with the opposition groups polling (in total) less than 42 percent of the votes cast. However, General Buhari of the CPC, registered just a few months prior to the elections, polled over 12 million votes, with 96.9 percent of the vote from Northern Nigeria.
With the merger of major opposition parties, the APC is more formidable, having membership and support beyond the North. Now that General Buhari is on its presidential ticket, it is unlikely that PDP stalwarts will sit back patiently without devising means to win the election at all costs. If Buhari could poll 12, 214, 853 as the presidential candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) as the APC candidate he is a genuinely credible challenger to PDP dominance.
The defection of the five PDP governors to the APC also raised the stakes higher. Political structures previously under the control of the PDP are now controlled by APC. The PDP will however, want to regain these states at all costs which further raises the stakes.
This acrimonious atmosphere has led to an explosion of hate speech. In the last weeks there have been accusations by Northern leaders and even the opposition party that Jonathan-led Federal Government is fueling the Boko Haram insurgency in the North East. Reminiscent of the Rwanda genocide, the state governor of Katsina was caught on tape referring to opponents as “cockroaches” and encouraging his supporters to crush them while they chanted “kill them”. The PDP National Publicity Secretary described the APC as a terrorist party, linking it to Al-Qaeda.
The use of social media has further led to the explosion of hate speech with a geopolitical dimension attached. There is also a need to watch out for the impact opinion polls may have in the elections. In the last months, several polls have been conducted placing some candidates ahead of others, the likelihood of conflict entrepreneurs latching on to figures from such polls to incite violence when a particular candidate loses out is a reality that must be proactively countered.
This election is being conducted as impunity and partisanship are exhibited at all levels. The security agencies are viewed as partisan at the national and state level. There are allegations of police patrol vehicles carrying political parties/candidates stickers in certain states. The Inspector General of police is being accused of partisanship with his recent handling of the House of Representatives’ impasse and failure to recognize the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Aminu Tambuwal, as the speaker.
In addition, the spokesperson of the Department of State Service (DSS), Ms. Marilyn Ogar, has been accused of partisanship following several unsubstantiated allegations against the APC, which includes claiming the party tried to bribe the DSS during the governorship election of August 9th. Similarly, she alleged that APC was a sponsor of the Boko Haram insurgency.
The preconceived notion of the security agencies’ partisanship has implications on the election, with the likelihood that opposition parties will resort to self-help or arming ethnic militias. This is worrying, particularly in the context of an election where the acceptance of results and the electoral outcome is a key challenge. Already the opposition parties are threatening to create a parallel government.
Speaking at the grand finale of Governor Rauf Aregbesola’s bid for re-election in Osogbo, Osun State, APC National Chairman, Chief John Oyegun, warned that any attempt by PDP to rig the 2015 elections would lead to the formation of a parallel government. This was reiterated by the Governor of Rivers State, Rotimi Amaechi, during an APC protest rally held in Abuja on 19th November 2014.
In the 2011 general election, INEC enjoyed the goodwill of most Nigerians, but this trend is changing for a number of reasons. Top of the list is the handling of the Permanent Voters’ Card (PVC) distribution and the Continuous Voters’ Registration (CVR) exercise. These exercises experienced varying challenges, ranging from logistics and capacity to the disappearance of over a million names off the register in Lagos State, to the extension of the exercise from the initially planned 3 to 4 + phases.
The PVC distribution in Lagos and Kano generated so much bad blood with rallies against the commission held across Lagos and political parties joining the fray with press conferences and statements issued, not only questioning INEC but also fostering the impression that the commission is acting out a script. In the same vein, the commission has been accused of planning to disenfranchise Christians by the Chairman of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor.
The perceived politicization of the creation of additional polling units (now suspended) also impacted the credibility of the commission as it was accused of favouring a particular part of the country. The Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) created by the Boko Haram insurgency constitute another challenge for INEC. There have been many calls for these people to be included in the elections without regard to the provisions of the law, which states that voters can only vote at the polling units where they registered. Without a review of electoral law, the practicality of this is in doubt, and even if an amendment to this effect is passed, how it would be achieved comes into question as these IDPs are scattered in homesteads (not just living in camps).
We also cannot gloss over international best practice as espoused in instruments such as the African Charter on Democracy, elections and governance, which prescribes six months before elections for the amendment of any electoral laws.
This analysis is not complete without emphasizing the increased role of religion in the upcoming elections. While much emphasis has been on political Islam in the Nigerian context, rising Pentecostalism and political power wielded by the Pentecostal pastors with huge followings must be emphasized. Particularly worrisome is the increased vituperation of the chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and outright partisan role played in the prelude to the elections.
As insecurity continues to pervade the country, much emphasis is being laid on the Boko Haram Insurgency. But a conflict risk assessment shows an average of eighteen states as being at “˜high risk’. For the purpose of this analysis, I shall concentrate on Nassarawa state.
Nassarawa state has been enmeshed in violence for the last 2 years, leaving aside the attempt to impeach the governor which led to loss of lives and property. The quest for power change and an unorthodox agreement between the incumbent governor and the Eggons (who constitute the highest percentage of citizens in the state) that the incumbent Governor will serve only a term in office in exchange for their support in the 2011 general election, is said to be one of the reasons for the emergence of the religious cult group, “˜Ombatse’, in 2013.
The sect is alleged to have murdered over 70 security agents, including men of the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) and DSS in cold blood in May 2013. The security agents were said to have stormed the shrine over alleged forceful conscription of people into the cult, none of the alleged killers of the security men have been brought to book while the white paper that emanated from the panel of inquiry set up by the state government is being challenged in court by the group.
The Fulani/Eggon crises, conflict between farmers and pastoralists and the rivalry between the PDP and APC pervade the Nassarawa state. There is hardly a week without a report of violent conflict, but the state is not being prioritized in terms of election programming.
As Boko Haram continues to acquire more territory, the likelihood of elections in the north east seems dim. From its concentration in the three states of Bornu, Yobe and Adamawa, in the last weeks, the insurgents have shifted attacks to Bauchi and Gombe in the North East, while at the same time making forays into Kano, Niger and Plateau in North West and North Central Nigeria respectively. Boko Haram has established its hegemony in some local government areas in the North East following the incapacity of the military to regain the areas. The question therefore is whether elections be held in the occupied territories.
The legitimacy of the elections and the incoming administration will hinge on the resolution of some of the highlighted issues and above all the quality of elections delivered by INEC.
Idayat Hassan is Director of the Centre for Democracy and Development, Abuja.