2011 Nigerian Elections
The Federal Republic of Nigeria is the most populous black nation on the planet. With a population of over 150 million, one in every five Africans is a Nigerian. Called the Giant of Africa, other nations in Africa look up to Nigeria as a country to look up to. And truly, Nigeria has lived up to its expectation in many situations, especially in its role as a regional superpower. However, the nation itself has been faced with one plague or the other since independence in 1960. For a predominant part of its post-independence era, Nigerians have not enjoyed the best of government and leadership. Right from the federal elections in 1959 until the 2007 general elections, the nation has had a series of elections but these have not been adjudged free or fair by local and international observers.
However, the only exception to this trend was the June 1993 elections. In that year, Bashorun Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, a Muslim and business mogul from the southwestern state of Ogun ran for the presidency in what was then considered the freest and fairest presidential elections in the history of the country. What made this event particularly striking was the fact that Bashorun Abiola chose Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe from the northeastern state of Borno as his running mate. Like Abiola, Kingibe is a Muslim, and a Muslim-Muslim ticket in a volatile Nigeria was unthinkable and a very sensitive issue in a nation polarized by religion. The northern half of the country is overwhelmingly inhabited by Muslims. In the south, Christians form a majority of the population. But, in a rare moment of unity, Nigerians voted en masse for Abiola who later won by a landslide.
Unfortunately, the results of the elections conducted by Professor Humphrey Nwosu were annulled by the reigning dictator, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, a Muslim soldier from the northern state of Niger. After the exit of Babangida, General Sani Abacha, a Muslim from Kano, the most populous state in Nigeria disrupted the interim dictator and became the maximum ruler until his sudden death in the hands from liver cirrhosis in 1998.
It was not until 1999 and after the unfortunate death that Nigeria had a real taste of what democracy was like. Since independence in 1960, Nigeria was mainly ruled by military rulers with only brief periods of democratic governments, which were often interrupted by coups. In 1999, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) won the presidential elections and ruled for eight years. Obasanjo, a Christian from the same state as Abiola and belonged to the Yoruba ethnic group.
At this point, it must be stated that in 1999, there was an unwritten agreement by the PDP to ‘rotate’ power between the Christian south and the Muslim north of the nation. Therefore, after Obasanjo’s presidency in 2007, he handed over to his handpicked successor, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua of the PDP, a little known Muslim governor from the northern state of Katsina. He was to rule for eight years but died after just two years in his first term. The elections of Obasanjo and Yar’Adua were characterized by massive rigging, voter intimidation, snatching of ballot boxes, bribery of electoral officers and widespread fraud. The elections were so flawed that Yar’Adua himself admitted this upon taking over and promised to sanitize the system. Unfortunately, he succumbed to Churg-Strauss syndrome after bouts of treatment in Germany and Saudi Arabia. His death in May 2010 destabilized the fragile arrangement of power in Africa’s most populous nation.
The death of Yar’Adua ushered in the presidency of the Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, his vice president. Jonathan is an Ijaw Christian and a southerner from the Ijaw ethnic group, one of the smallest tribes in the country. The coming of Jonathan meant that the Muslim north would not taste power for a long time. Jonathan declared intention to run for presidency after wide consultations and that climaxed in the April 2011 presidential elections. The elections conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) brought to the fore once again, the deep tribal and religious division in the country.
Although these elections were adjudged free and fair by local and international observers, there were serious protests and outbreaks of violence in the Muslim north after INEC declared the loss of Jonathan’s closest contender, General Muhammadu Buhari, a former head of state who was contesting for the third time. By the time the melee was over, hundreds of lives were lost and properties worth millions of dollars were destroyed. In these elections, Nigerians voted along tribal and religious divides as Jonathan got most of his votes from the Christian south and the northerners voted overwhelmingly for Buhari. The problem with Nigerian elections are diverse –ignorance, poor voter education, widespread poverty and ethno-religious sentiments. The 2011 elections are far from perfect but were far better that that of 1999, 2003 and 2011. We may not be where we want to be but we are not where we used to be. It will take some time for the Nigerian political system to evolve into a full-fledged democracy. Until then, we can only hope for the very best.
Adebayo Ahmed Adebola
Adebayo Ahmed Adebola is a 23-year-old Nigerian writer, editor and motivational speaker. A recipient of the 2009 CHD/Ford Foundation Essay Writing Prize, he is passionate about learning about his deen and spreading the knowledge.
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