The end of a power-sharing arrangement between the Muslim North and the Christian South, as now seems likely, could lead to post-election sectarian violence, paralysis of the executive branch, and even a coup.
The Obama administration has little leverage over the conduct and outcome of the elections — and if the vote does lead to chaos, Washington may no longer be able to count on Nigerian partnership in addressing African regional and security issues such as the conflicts in Darfur, Southern Sudan, and Somalia.
Nigeria’s current political drama dates to November 2009, when its president, Umaru Yar’Adua, was hospitalized for a kidney condition in Saudi Arabia.
Yar’Adua refused to comply with the Nigerian constitution and hand over executive authority to Vice President Goodluck Jonathan.
The result was a power vacuum until February 2010, when the National Assembly extra-legally designated Jonathan the “acting president” by resolution, even though there is no constitutional provision for doing so. In April, Acting President Jonathan attended the nuclear safety summit in Washington, where U.S.
President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden warmly embraced him, not least because his designation forestalled a possible military coup. In May 2010, the first act of Nigeria’s political tragedy ended when Yar’Adua died and Jonathan became the constitutional president.
Now, Washington may be tempted to move its attention away from Nigeria — but that would be a mistake.
Nigeria has held three national elections since the end of military dictatorship in 1998.
In 1999, active and retired military officers, along with a few civilian allies, oversaw the transition from military to civilian rule.
They established the non-ideological People’s Democratic Party (PDP); selected Olusegun Obasanjo, a Christian from the South, as the presidential candidate; and placed him in office with a northern Muslim vice president.
An elite consensus formed around an unwritten power-sharing agreement, which dictated that presidential candidates would henceforth alternate between the Christian South and the Muslim North — a system designed to avoid presidential contests that could exacerbate hostility between the regions and religions.
With the advantages of presidential incumbency, and access to unlimited oil money, Obasanjo secured elite support for a second presidential term in 2003.
Northerners reluctantly acquiesced to a rotation cycle of two terms rather than the one they had foreseen in 1999. Once re-elected, however, Obasanjo reneged on his two-term promise by attempting to run again in 2007.
This bid was defeated due to public anger and northern leaders’ insistence on power sharing.
Nevertheless, Obasanjo remained powerful enough to impose his handpicked candidates on the ruling party in 2007: Yar’Adua, a northern Muslim, for president and Jonathan, a Christian southerner, for vice president.
Obasanjo’s chosen candidates fit the terms of the power-sharing convention, and accordingly, they took office after the 2007 election, which was marred by fraud and irregularities.
However, Yar’Adua’s subsequent death and Jonathan’s presidency upended the power-sharing arrangement.
In the event of post-election sectarian violence and a political breakdown, the army could intervene if the civilian government loses control.
Unlike in every previous election since 1999, no elite consensus exists for the 2011 poll, nor is there an Obasanjo-like figure strong enough to impose one. Although it is still dominated by elites and their patronage networks, the Nigerian political sphere is wide open.
Many in the North believe it is still their turn for the presidency, but the northern power brokers do not agree on who should be their presidential candidate.
Several northern politicians, including Ibrahim Babangida and Muhammadu Buhari, both former military dictators, are running for the presidency.
Other potential candidates are Aliyu Mohammed Gusau, the national security adviser under Obasanjo and Jonathan, and several northern governors.
Nigerian democrats are advocating the candidacies of Nasir El-Rufai, the former minister of the Federal Capital Territory, and Nuhu Ribadu, formerly the head of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the anticorruption agency.
Both are seen as having the potential to restore public faith in the political system. But so long as the current elites remain the country’s political power brokers, candidates operating outside the PDP will be long shots at best.
Jonathan, with the advantages of presidential incumbency, has also announced that he will run.
This could mean the presidential contest will feature one or more northern Muslim candidates opposing Jonathan against the backdrop of ethnic and religious violence in the Middle Belt, Muslim extremism in the North, and an ongoing insurrection in the oil-rich Niger Delta.
In such a fraught environment, supporters of candidates might exploit religious and ethnic identities, a dangerous and potentially explosive dynamic that until now has largely been avoided.
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Article is in bad state, Ambassador Adefuye
THE recent article by Mr. John Campbell, the United States Ambassador to our country from 2004 to 2007, published in Foreign Affairs Journal, under the aegis of the Council for Foreign Relations entitled Nigeria on the Brink, What Happens if the 2011 Elections Fail?, is to say the least is in bad taste. Incidentally we just held a reception on Friday September 10 at the Nigerian Chancery for Dr Robin Renee Sanders who last week completed her tour of duty as the American Ambassador to Nigeria.
Her speech in response to my toast was totally at variance with the one proffered by Ambassador John Campbell. It will be recalled that at the event this past weekend, apart from wishing Nigeria well, Dr. Sanders, expressed deep optimism about our ability to conduct a free, fair and credible election as well as her faith in the future stability and prosperity of Nigeria. She also expressed confidence in the ability of the country to fulfill her destiny as the African bastion and guardian of democracy, human rights, rule of law and all that make society peaceful and stable.
Dr. Robin Sanders was of course speaking from a position of strength, a familiarity with current mood, mentality and disposition of Nigerians as distinct from long-held jaundiced theories and hypothesis for which facts are selected to justify. Ambassador John Campbell needs to be told that we as a people have moved far away from the scenario he thought he saw in 2007.
There is now a paradigm shift in the manner of the conduct of our politics and the type of leadership desired by Nigerians. The era of the big men, the imposing god- fathers, ethnicised and polarized politics are over. Nigerians have made it clear since after 2007 elections that what they want is free, fair and credible elections in which the best available material is elected to lead us. We now want a system in which there is democracy even at the grassroots, one in which political parties are internally democratized and where every vote counts.
Besides the idea that my ethnic favorite, whether good or bad should lead is over. What Nigerians now want is a leader regardless of his origin but who is able to guarantee adequate infrastructures, fight corruption and lead Nigeria in a respectable manner in the international community .This takes no cognizance of some rumored private agreement to zone or restrict certain offices to certain
geographical regions at certain times. The support which Nigeria has been getting in recent times with the implementation of the Bi-National agreement with the US is an indication of what the Obama administration thinks of the current Nigerian administration. It will take more than the John Campbell’s of this world to change that impression. This is because we shall keep remaining on the right track. I am still waiting to read the entire book of John Campbell upon which this offensive article is based. I have had cause since I assumed duty here to take up issues with a few of some so-called experts whose claim to expertise was the three to four- year period of service in Nigeria, during which their jaundiced view of Nigeria made them only to look for facts to justify their biases which they parrot in some public educational institutions and otherwise informed publications.
They need to be told that some of us who were born in, lived and studied Nigeria before going abroad to study their country, are better judges of the Nigerian situation. Let me point out some of the contradictions in John Campbell’s thesis taking him up, at the intellectual level. He says that there is no elite consensus for the 2011 election. When did the existence of an elite consensus become a prerequisite for a successful election? What becomes of the concept of universal adult suffrage and the freedom of expression, and the voting right of every individual which lies at the root of the western concept of democracy? Or must the rule change because this is Africa?
What does Ambassador Campbell exactly mean when he says that even though Nigerian politics is elite- dominated, the field is now wide open? We have passed through the stage of elite domination. We now want proper democracy at the grassroots. John Campbell is really out of touch with the current mood in Nigeria. If not, he will not be casting doubt on the ability of our current INEC to conduct an election that is credible. Let him be informed that it is Professor Attahiru Jega that is now in-charge of INEC no longer Maurice Iwu. If he knows Nigeria as much as he would like his readers to believe, he will realize the import of such a message. John Campbell and his ilk should also realize that whether he talks of the Northerners or the people of the Niger delta we are now all resolved to have a politically stable country and to cooperate with whosoever the democratic process throws up as our leader. It has become obvious to all of us that our future lies in a strong, politically stable and ultimately economically prosperous Nigeria utilizing the groundnuts and the agricultural products of the North with the oil and gas of the Delta to improve the living standards of our people. There is no going back.
Finally, I will appeal to all the prophets of doom to allow Nigeria to be. Those who have been prophesying the end of Nigeria for quite some time and even ascribing possible dates are like the proverbial man who sits at the bank of the river waiting for the time that the crab will go to sleep. He will be stay there for his entire life. This country Nigeria has been created by God to survive and to play a role in the positive transformation of the black race. It shall be so.
* Professor Adebowale Adefuye is Nigeria’s Ambassador to the United States