Can Buhari mend a broken Nigeria?
ABUJA — According to a recent poll, an equal number of Nigerian voters — 41 percent — fell on either side of the debate surrounding the postponement of presidential elections.
It is perhaps no coincidence that those numbers almost perfectly overlap with the results of a December 2014 presidential voting survey, in which each of the two main parties racked up 42 percent of the total tally.
By a rule of thumb, supporters of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and president Goodluck Jonathan backed the postponement, while those of the All Progressives Congress (APC), the main opposition party, opposed it.
The opposition’s candidate is Muhammadu Buhari, a former military ruler, and three-time presidential contender, who has since his emergence undergone what is arguably the most impressive political rebranding in the history of Nigeria.
A man once given exclusively to babarigas — traditional dress favoured by Hausa-fulani men from northern Nigeria — now poses for photographs bow-tied and besuited, or in the traditional outfits of southeastern Nigeria and the oil-rich Niger delta, regions in which he has consistently recorded meagre votes in his three previous attempts at the presidency.
Mr Buhari and his supporters insist that the PDP forced the postponement to undermine the APC’S unprecedented momentum, and to buy more time to work out a way of rigging an election it looks set to lose.
The PDP has denied those allegations, focusing instead on querying the preparedness level of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
By all accounts, the INEC has not lived up to its responsibility. Going by several indices (distribution of biometric voter-cards, accreditation of observers, training of election personnel) the preparations have been shoddy, and a 14 February 2015 election, had it gone ahead, would have been — not uncharacteristically, it must be said — chaotic.
The PDP is also increasingly voicing its opposition to the planned deployment of handheld card-readers that the INEC wants to experiment with during the coming elections.
The fingerprint technology on which the card readers are based is designed to produce greater transparency in the elections by ensuring that no one is able to vote more than once. (One of the commonest of conventional voter-fraud methods in Nigeria has been through the mass thumb-printing of ballot papers.)
On the surface, the PDP’S argument is that the card readers are untested, and that it would be imprudent to attempt an experiment using the allimportant presidential election as a catalyst.
The actual reason, is not farfetched: by insisting on the use of non-biometric cards, the PDP will be able to throw open the elections for the sort of rigging that earned it landslide victories in the last four presidential elections.
Between insisting on the use of card-readers and biometric cards, and that the rescheduled elections must on no account be postponed again, the APC has its hands full. If it wins these two battles, its chances of forming the next central government are significant.
The party, a merger of Nigeria’s three leading opposition parties, has been fighting against-all-odds battles even before it was formally registered by the electoral commission in July of 2013.
The first hurdle was a court case by an organisation — presumably sponsored by the PDP — that called itself the African People’s Congress and laid claim to the “APC” acronym, insisting it had filed for registration as a political party before the All Progressives Congress.
Having been registered, the APC wasted no time firming up its position, attracting a raft of high profile defectors — including five governors — from the ruling party. The PDP, sufficiently jolted, let go of Bamanga Tukur, the divisive chairman under whose watch the defections happened, and replaced him with Adamu Mu’azu, a former governor with a knack for political strategy.
The next big hurdle for the APC was the selection of presidential and vice presidential candidates. Considering its origins as a coalition of disparate political movements, it seemed unlikely that it would manage the process of selecting flag-bearers that everyone felt were in their interest.
It spectacularly disappointed pessimists. In the days that followed, tensions swiftly rose over the choice of a running mate to Mr Buhari. Again the party smoothed over a looming dissension, and presented a cerebral professor of law as Mr Buhari’s deputy — a necessary contrast to the former military man’s gruff, blunt demeanour. This carefully structured campaign-organogram helped bring on board the influential interests who had lost out up until then.
Events over the last several months would then conspire to ensure that incumbent president Mr Jonathan’s most formidable opponent would not even be the APC, or Mr Buhari, but instead the terrorist group Boko Haram, and, to a lesser extent, the Nigerian currency (the naira).
The abduction by Boko Haram of more than 200 schoolgirls in Chibok last April, and the belated, incoherent response of the Jonathan government, dealt a huge blow to his reputation at home and abroad.
Since then, Boko Haram has marched on confidently, seizing and holding towns and villages, keeping the military consistently on defence. Last year alone, the group’s onslaught claimed the lives of more than 4 000 persons; and more than 1.5 million Nigerians have been displaced as a result.
Around October of last year, at a time when Boko Haram was stepping up its attacks and seizing increasingly larger swathes of territory, the naira began to slump, thanks to crashing oil prices.
If Boko Haram was mainly affecting people in the country’s remote north-eastern region, the devaluing naira took its own fight straight to the economic heartlands of the country — the southern cities that are the hubs of Nigeria’s banking and manufacturing industries.
The net effect of terrorism and the economic downturn has been devastating for the president’s reelection prospects. Boko Haram has depleted his northern support base so profoundly that he spent quite a bit of time on the campaign stump trying to convince northerners that he is not, in fact, a Boko Haram sponsor. — Quartz
NIGERIAN opposition leader Muhammadu Buhari has tried to spruce up his hard-line image by appearing at events bow-tied and besuited.