Nigeria made final preparations Friday on the eve of a landmark presidential election, with incumbent Goodluck Jonathan favoured to win after opposition parties failed to unite against him.
Africa’s most populous nation will be attempting to hold its cleanest election for head of state in nearly two decades on Saturday, with parliamentary polls the week before seen as a major step forward.
Jonathan’s main challenger is ex-military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, who benefits from significant support in the country’s mainly Muslim north. Jonathan, a southern Christian, is the first president from the oil-producing Niger Delta region.
Despite the progress, violence also cast a shadow over last week’s efforts in Africa’s largest oil producer, with bomb blasts and other attacks leaving more than 30 dead.
Security has once again been tightened ahead of Saturday’s vote, with land borders shut and vehicle restrictions due to take effect Friday evening.
With the results of parliamentary elections so far showing the ruling party losing ground, the country’s two main opposition parties had restarted negotiations this week on forming an alliance against Jonathan.
The candidate for the Action Congress of Nigeria, Nuhu Ribadu, had offered to step down in favour of Buhari of the Congress for Progressive Change.
The offer, however, was based on Buhari accepting Ribadu’s vice presidential candidate on his ticket, which he refused, according to the ACN.
Fola Adeola, a respected businessman and Ribadu’s vice presidential candidate, told AFP recently in an interview that he would have favoured an alliance since that offered the best hope for unseating Jonathan.
He also harshly criticised Jonathan, who took office in May 2010 following the death of his predecessor Umaru Yar’Adua.
“When you take the person who is president of Nigeria today, that wasn’t the design,” said Adeola, whose campaign has pledged to reduce corruption in one of the world’s most graft-ridden nations and improve education, among other issues.
“The design was that they were looking for a weakling to stand next to Yar’Adua.”
But because of Yar’Adua’s death, “we are stuck with this person who was not supposed to be good enough for the job… He’s done his best to the limits of his capacity. I think we need to move on from there.”
While some criticise Jonathan as weak, others say his calm approach is better suited to bringing about change in Nigeria, a nation of some 250 ethnic groups and a population roughly split between Christians and Muslims.
The opposition will face a tough road in seeking to beat him with their votes divided — despite the fact that an enormous effort underway to hold credible polls is seen as giving the opposition a greater opening.
Two opinion polls have given Jonathan a wide lead over Buhari, and Ribadu has scored less than 10 percent in both. Jonathan’s party has won every presidential vote since Nigeria returned to civilian rule in 1999.
“The opposition is in disarray,” said Chidi Odinkalu of the Open Society Justice Initiative NGO. “It had the possibility of defeating the incumbent.”
Jonathan has repeatedly pledged a free and fair election, and Nigeria has been under major pressure from international bodies and Western nations to improve the conduct of its polls after years of rigging and fraud.
“The president is not seeing this as a do or die affair, which is good for our democracy,” said Ken Nnamani, a high-ranking member of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party.
Presidential Candidate’s profiles
Nigerian presidential election candidates short profiles- Following are the profiles of the leading candidates in Saturday’s presidential election in Nigeria.
Incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan (ruling Peoples Democratic Party)
Goodluck Jonathan is widely considered as the front runner for the presidency in Saturday’s election.
Born on 20 November 1957, at Otueke in Nigeria’s southern Bayelsa State, he is from the Ijaw ethnic group in the oil producing Niger Delta region.
Jonathan holds a Bachelors of Science (B.Sc.) degree in Zoology, a Masters degreee in Hydrobiology/Fisheries biology and a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Zoology from the University of Port Harcourt.
He worked as an education inspector, lecturer and environmental protection officer before joining politics in 1998.
Jonathan, though having contested only once for any major political office (as vice presidential candidate in 2007), has served in many key posts starting from state commissioner to deputy governor, governor, vice president and president.
When he was sworn in as President and Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces 6 May 2010, a day after President Umaru Yar’Adua died in office, Jonathan’s meteoric rise finally peaked.
Analysts said his good fortunes in politics were a reflection of his name, Goodluck.
Rising rapidly from his post as deputy governor of Bayelsa in 1999, Jonathan became governor of the state when the governor, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, was removed from office on the grounds of corruption.
From his post as governor, Jonathan was nominated as vice presidential candidate of the ruling PDP in 2006, which made him a running mate to then candidate Umaru Yar’Adua, who would later be president.
Following their victory in the 2007 general election, Jonathan was sworn in 29 May 2007 as vice president to President Umaru Yar’Adua.
He held on to that position until 9 Feb. 2009, when he was endorsed by the National Assembly (parliament) as Acting President to fill the vacuum left behind by Yar’Adua’s departure to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment.
Jonathan, a Christian, is married to Patience and has two children.
Muhammadu Buhari (opposition Congress for Progressive Change)
If any candidate can dislodge President Goodluck Jonathan from the opulent Aso Rock presidential villa, that candidate is Muhammadu Buhari, retired army general and former military head of state.
Buhari, who will be 69 in December (making him the oldest contestant for the presidency), was the military head of state of Nigeria from 31 December 1983 to 27 August, 1985.
Before then, he served in many capacities, including governor, minister, head of the state-run oil firm Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and head of the Petroleum Trust Fund.
After his retirement from the military, he went into politics, contesting for the office of president both in the 2003 and 2007 general elections, under the platform of the then main opposition All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). He lost both times.
Buhari, a Muslim, is of the Fulani ethnic stock and hails from northern Katsina state.
Though hunted by his past as a military dictator, Buhari is perhaps the most respected former Head of State, because he is widely perceived to be highly disciplined and incorruptible – two attributes on which he has hinged his campaign for the presidency in 2011.
Nuhu Ribadu (main opposition Action Congress of Nigeria)
At 50 the youngest of the four leading candidates, Ribabu has run a campaign for the highest political office based on his antecedents as the country’s anti-corruption Czar, a former police officer and a lawyer.
He graduated from the Nigerian Law School and was called to the bar in 1984, before joining the Nigeria Police, where he rose to become head of the Legal and Prosecution department.
His 18-year service in the Nigeria Police culminated in his appointment as pioneer Executive Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in April 2003, a post in which he rose into prominence as he arrested and jailed several high profile personalities.
Ribadu was also a key member of the Economic Management Team of the President Olusegun Obasanjo administration. His team initiated and drove the wide ranging public sector reforms.
A Muslim from the north, he is widely acknowledged as bringing to whatever he does a deep passion and an exemplary sense of dedication and efficiency.
He is considered a candidate for the future.
Ibrahim Shekarau (opposition All Nigeria Peoples Party)
Born on 5 November 1955, Shekarau has been the governor of northern Kano state since 29 May 2003.
Shekarau, the son of a police officer, graduated from the Ahmadu Bello University in northern Zaria in 1977 with a Bachelor of Education degree in Mathematics.
After a teaching stint, during which he became a school principal, he went into the public service, where he rose to the pinnacle of his new career as Director General (Permanent Secretary) in Kano state.
Shekarau was not considered a very serious contender for the presidency until he out-performed other contestants in a television debate organised as part of the campaign for the presidency on 18 March 2011.
His composure, calmness and well thought out answers greatly impressed Nigerians.
Despite his impressive showing in the debate, Shekarau, a Muslim from the north, is considered a long shot for the presidency.
The mathematics of winning Nigeria’s Presidential election
A tricky requirement in the electoral law makes winning Nigeria’s presidential election always an interesting game of mathematics. To win the nation’s presidency, it is not enough to win a simple majority of votes but also there is a more challenging requirement of winning, at least, 25 percent of the votes casts in two-thirds of the federation.
With 36 states in the federation, excluding the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), the implication is that to win the presidency, a presidential candidate must win a simple majority of votes cast across the federation but must also win at least 25 percent of the votes cast in each of a minimum of 24 states across the country. The intention is to have a president who will be as widely acceptable across the federation as much as possible.
Based on this basic requirement, it has usually been the case that the winner of any presidential election in Nigeria requires the support of other regions.
The critical test for this basic rule arose in the 1979 election when the Late Obafemi Awolowo sought a judicial interpretation for two-thirds of 19 states. Before the election two-thirds of 19 states had been assumed to be 13 states but Shagari had won the simple majority and 25 percent of the votes in 12 states and another 19 percent of the votes in the 13th state.
Awolowo’s challenge of this case failed because the Supreme Court interpreted two- thirds of 19 states not to be 13 states as Awolowo argued but rather “12 two-third”.
In a twist of faith, some political analysts think Nigeria may be facing one of the closest contested elections like that of the 1979 elections in which all the parties had their strongholds in different regions.
There is a strong feeling that though incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan has clear lead in the race to occupy Aso Rock, he may not get there with an easy victory at the polls.
Currently, there are three clear leaders in the race. President Jonathan of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Mohammdu Buhari of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), and Nuhu Ribadu of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN).
The three candidates are perceived to have their strong base in different regions of the country.
There is a fourth candidate Shekarau of the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) with Kano as his stronghold, but who may have warmed his way into some Nigerians’ hearts with communication skills at one of the Presidential debates. It is not however, clear if this will translate into electoral capital at the polls.
While Jonathan is perceived to be strong in the South especially, the South East and South South, Buhari is said to be strong in the North, especially the North East while Ribadu is expected to make a strong showing in the South West, the base of the ACN for which he flies their flag.
How does it work out mathematically for winning the presidential election in 2011? The updated INEC register says that Nigeria has an average of 73 million registered voters.
The first implication of this is that for anyone to emerge winner of the 2011 elections, he must win the highest number of votes cast at the elections and the 25 percent of the votes cast in 24 states across the federation.
A regional grouping of registered voters will create a fair idea of how any presidential candidate can get these votes.
Based on INEC’s register, North West has a cumulative total 19,808,689 voters. South West, ACN’s enclave, has 14, 296, 163 registered voters. North Central 10, 684, 017; South South 9, 474, 427; North East 10, 749,059 while the South East has 7, 577,212 voters.
Based on this vote grouping on regional level, President Jonathan’s sure bet areas of South South and South East can only give the President cumulative votes of an average of 17 million voters assuming he gets 100 percent of the votes in these two regions and every registered voter comes out to vote.
If the President can add every single vote in the South West, he will add 14 million votes in the South West, which will take his vote count to 31million.
But the question is- can the president get all the required votes in the South West? Political analysts believe that President Jonathan can count on the votes of the South East and South South, but may have a shaky run in the South West, a good run in North Central and shaky run in the North East.
Using the Thisday/Ipsos poll as a proxy which clearly gave Jonathan the lead, Jonathan is likely to win in all the Southern States but may lose in most states of the North.
The Thisday/Ipsos poll states that Buhari has a clear lead among polled samples in Kebbi, Sokoto, Zamfara, Jigawa and Bauchi and further holds narrow leads in Katsina, Kano, Kaduna, Yobe, Borno and Gombe.
For simplicity sake, we are giving all the votes in these states to Buhari, which will amount to a cumulative vote of about 26 million, not enough to overturn Jonathan provided Jonathan brings in the South West votes.
The challenge for Jonathan and Buhari, however, is the fact that there are two other Presidential candidates that may basically act as spoilers for the Buhari and Jonathan. Ribadu could ensure that Jonathan does not get all the votes he needs in the South West while Shekarau may be able to cut down Buhari’s votes in the North.
Once more, using the Thisday/Ipsos poll as a proxy, it shows that “Jonathan leads in all Southern states with the exception of Ekiti, where Ribadu has a 54percent score, and Osun, which is considered too close to call, even though Jonathan leads. Ribadu and Shekarau had a strong showing in the state, thereby making it difficult to call for Jonathan.”
The significance of Ribadu having a strong showing in Ekiti in the heartland of the Southwest should not be understated.
It should also be noted that the top 10 states are with the highest number of registered voters cannot be described as safe bets for President Jonathan.
The top ten states are Lagos (6,108,069) Kano (5,027,297) Kaduna (3,905, 387, Katsina (3,126,898, Oyo (2,572, 140), Bauchi (2,523, 614) Rivers 2,429, 231, Benue, (2,390, 884, Sokoto (2, 267, 509), Plateau (2,259, 194) with a cumulative total of 32, 610,223 voters.
Based on the Thisday/Ipsos poll, Lagos and Rivers can be safely called for the President, while all the other states may be a battle ground with the President being the weaker contender in those states.
But President Jonathan seems to be the most positioned presidential candidate to, however, win 25 percent of votes cast in each of a minimum of 24 states in Nigeria. Indications are that none of the other presidential candidates may have what it takes to win the spread for the election.
It must be noted, however, that this analysis has made the simplistic assumption that all registered voters will cast their votes on election.
This definitely will not be the case. The ability of political parties to mobilise their supporters to come out and cast their votes will definitely make a difference on the final vote count for each candidate.
It should also be noted that the outcome of the National Assembly election may have some influence on the presidential election as the results may give an indication of the actual strength of the parties in their various regions of strength.
It is assumed that the elections will be largely free and fair and that votes will count.