The political atmosphere in Nigeria is currently charged. But it is no more charged than what happens in major democracies especially during an election season. International interest in the elections happening in February 2015 has been aroused mainly by the strategic importance of Nigeria in Africa, its size, its economic importance, the diversity of its human and material resources and what implications the outcome of the elections would have on democracy building in Africa. Friends of Nigeria and Africa are hoping that with the successful outcome of the elections, a government based on the will of the people would further the cause of democracy in Africa in the same manner that the government that emerged from the 2011elections secured the legitimacy to push for democracy in Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea Bissau, Mali, and is currently doing same in Burkina Faso.
The re-alignment of political forces leading to the emergence of a strong opposition has made the forthcoming elections particularly interesting. This is further re-enforced by the on-going debate on the observation of the zoning formula of the ruling party. The changes in political loyalties by the leading members of both the PDP and APC continue to heighten tension. The destruction caused by Boko Haram activities especially the abduction of the Chibok girls from their hostels, has led to animated debate on the performance of the government in fulfilling its major task of protecting the lives and properties of the citizens. The very valid explanation that Boko Haram is not a local group pressing for local demands but that it is the West African brand of the global al-Qaida terrorist movement has been conveniently ignored by those who are looking forward to a regime change.
In the recent past, the drop in the price of oil and its possible impact on the Nigerian economy, especially the stock market, and the ability of the government to fulfil its financial obligation to its citizens has tended to add more to the cloud gathering on Nigeria.
There is so much tension in the air that a few members of the international community are beginning to cast doubt on the future stability of Nigeria.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am here to assure you that Nigeria will emerge from these elections stronger and more united. Here are my reasons:
a. The drop in oil prices is not expected to last forever. It is expected to pick up sometime soon. It may not be as high as before but the current price level is abnormal. Government has re-adjusted its spending plan to cope with the situation.
b. On the elections, the atmosphere may be charged but from our historical experience, we have gone through this cycle before in our political history, from which we emerged stronger. We fought a three-year civil war as a result of which we realized the importance and the advantage of our size and complexity in the global arena. Nigerians are resolved to live as a united, strong corporate entity before and after the elections.
c. We have experienced both civil and military rule and we know the difference. We are not about to forego the dividends of democracy which we have been enjoying since 1999 for a military imposition that has no sense of responsibility or accountability. Whatever differences we have before and after the elections, we will resolve it through our established institutions which we have been strengthening since 1999.
d. Part of the dividends of democracy is accountability. Various political parties and succeeding governments tried to justify their stay in office by pointing to their achievements in various areas of development. We have especially, in the last 4 years, emphasized the supremacy of the rule of law. No doubt, sections of our judiciary need improvement but by and large pronouncements of the judiciary are now speedily implemented by all organs of the government, including pronouncements on election petitions. It is expected to be the same with the post- 2015 election petitions.
e. We have a National Electoral Commission that is independent in all its ramifications. The conduct of the 2011 elections was largely satisfactory to the majority of the local populace as well as the international community. With the assistance of our foreign partners, the capacity of the Electoral Commission to discharge its duty effectively have been strengthened. Between 2011 and now, it has conducted elections at the state and local government levels, the results of which have been accepted even when in some states it led to regime change. The number of election petitions since 2011 has gradually decreased. The Commission is far from being perfect; in fact, as of now, there have been criticism of its handling of Permanent Voters Card, but the Commission is very responsive and is expected to address this and other gaps before the elections in February.
f. The candidates of the two leading political parties – President Goodluck Jonathan of the ruling PDP and Muhammadu Buhari of the opposition APC – recently signed an undertaking committing themselves, their political parties and supporters to non-violence. This is unprecedented in Nigeria’s electoral experience.
6. The issues involved in the elections can be summarized briefly as follows: Whether Nigerians would like to see the continuation of an agenda which has restored the supremacy of the rule of law; has embarked on the diversification of the economy by emphasizing on non-oil sectors of the economy, created more universities, improve the quality of infrastructure such as airports, roads, re-introduced the railway, turn agriculture into a business and allow freedom of expression by which there are no political prisoners. On the other hand, there are some who believe that the present government could have done much better in the area of internal security, fight against corruption, internal and external terrorism and the provision of basic amenities like electricity, water and road. They claim to have a much better solution to the myriads of problems confronting Nigeria, dismissing explanations like the international impact of global terrorism.
7. The results of the elections could be affected by a number of factors. The persistence of ethnicity and religion cannot be ignored, although their importance is declining. The beauty of the situation is that the political atmosphere, even though charged, is relatively free. There have been no arrests and detentions since the campaign started. Opposition parties enjoy equal air time in government-owned media. To the pessimists, my message to them is that they will be disappointed. They seem to me as one foolish man who goes to the bank of the river waiting to see the time that the crab will go to sleep. He will be there for the rest of his life because the crab never sleeps. Nigeria will emerge from these elections stronger, united and more prosperous.
––Professor Adefuye is Nigerian Ambassador to the United States of America, made the presentation at roundtable discussion on Nigeria’s forthcoming general elections at the Corporate Council on Africa.