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Weekly Analysis: Upcoming Elections in Nigeria

Nigeria has decided to postpone its presidential and congressional elections, which were scheduled for Feb. 14. The elections will now be held on Mar. 28. The decision to postpone was made on the grounds that the Nigerian military could not protect citizens from the riots and violence that are expected to erupt from the inevitable incensed voters regardless of election results. Current president Goodluck Jonathan’s administration has also cited its failure to properly distribute voter registration cards as a reason for postponement.

Nigerian forces are currently occupied with fighting Boko Haram. Notably, the word “Boko” is Hausa, and “Haram” is Arabic; together, the two form a composite phrase that translates to “Western education is forbidden.” Boko Haram itself is an insurgent group that is responsible for numerous acts of terror in Nigeria and the surrounding region, including kidnapping nearly 300 Nigerian schoolgirls in April 2014 and attacking northeastern cities and towns, including the city of Maiduguri.

Jonathan will run against Muhammadu Buhari, a former military ruler of Nigeria who took power in a coup d’état in 1983 and ruled until 1985, when he was ousted. Jonathan is running for the People’s Democratic Party and expects strong voter turnout from the Christian population of Nigeria, while Buhari is running for the All Progressives Congress party and is supported mainly by the Muslim population. This divide reflects the religious tension that has been a source of violence and dispute for as long as Nigeria has been a state—since Britain grouped together different ethnic groups and cultures into one colonial state throughout the 1860s. 

Among other campaign promises, Buhari says he will be able to effectively deal with Boko Haram, a claim that is supported by his reputation for taking action and being effective as ruler. This reputation was built during Buhari’s time as military ruler, when he launched an anti-corruption campaign, which resulted in the arrests of hundreds of officials and businessmen, and also established laws to improve the efficiency of Nigeria’s government and economy. However, these laws have been criticized for violating human rights and the freedom of Nigerians.  

The president’s decision to postpone the election appears to be yet another abuse of presidential power in the hopes of swaying the election in his favor. After four years of failure to address Boko Haram and the group’s numerous acts of terror, this six-week delay is not long enoughto produce results and is a clear misuse of power, undermining Nigeria’s fragile democratic processes for a short-term political gain. Jonathan’s administration has been ineffective in fixing some of the country’s issues and has even created others, including widespread economic and governmental corruption. This ineffectiveness has shaped the international community’s opinion of the Nigerian government as unstable, and the decision to postpone the election can only exacerbate this view. 

However, even if the election takes place as scheduled, and even if Buhari wins, there is little guarantee that those in power will able to implement change in the Nigerian government and gain legitimacy, especially given the current state of corruption within the administration and Buhari’s history as a dictator. The government of Nigeria is denying its citizens a voice by postponing the elections, which further raises citizens’ doubt of the legitimacy of the elections and distrust toward the democratic process in Nigeria. 

With the constant threat of Boko Haram, the international community is pressuring Nigeria to take measures to increase the effectiveness and legitimacy of its government. Though this election is unlikely to cause a dramatic change in Nigeria’s ability to govern itself, the current crisis with Boko Haram requires Nigeria to at least maintain its routine functions and processes and increase internal stability if it hopes to eliminate the threat of Boko Haram. 

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