Financial Mail

NIGERIAN ELECTIONS It’s a two-man battle

Poll debates shaped by economic insecurity and increasing number of Boko Haram raids


as big as previously assumed — overtaken SA to become Africa’s largest economy.

The economic trouble started in the second half of the year. For decades the US was the largest buyer of Nigerian oil, but its imports have been in decline. In July it did not import any crude from Nigeria for the first time in more than 40 years. At about the same time, oil prices began to tumble. An Ebola outbreak in Lagos and Port Harcourt (the country’s oil and gas hub) between July and September killed eight people. In the last quarter of the year, sustained pressure on the naira forced the Central Bank to devalue it by 8%.

But these woes pale in comparison to the threat of Boko Haram. The terrorist group, which claims to want to establish an Islamic caliphate, has been at war with the Nigerian state since 2009. Last year it began seizing territory, and is now believed to be in control of land the size of Swaziland. More than 1m people have been displaced.

If Jonathan loses the elections, it will in large part be because of his inability to tackle the insurgents and protect the lives of citizens. Barely three days into the new year Boko Haram struck again, resulting in what Amnesty Internatio­nal says is possibly its “deadliest act” ever.

The silence from the Nigerian government has triggered a strident backlash from citizens, and is being eagerly touted by the opposition as yet more evidence of the president’s insensitiv­ity. It hasn’t helped that Jonathan has waited until now — mere weeks to the elections — to visit the region, after staying away for close to two years.

A recent letter from a group of Young Global Leaders of the World Economic Forum accused the government of seeming to be “ambivalent about fulfilling its con- Kofi Annan, Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari Nigeria urged to hold peaceful elections next month stitutiona­l role to secure the lives and properties of its citizens”.

Another source of concern, and potential instabilit­y, is the election itself. The presidenti­al election in 2011 was followed by days of rioting across northern Nigeria by Buhari’s supporters. Hundreds died in the violence. To forestall a repeat, former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan convened a meeting in Abuja last week, at which all the presidenti­al candidates signed an agreement committing to nonviolenc­e.

Buhari’s APC is a coalition of the three biggest opposition parties, and a breakaway faction of a fourth, formed in 2013, and now in control of 14 of the country’s 36 states. The PDP, formed in 1998, holds 21 states, and has held the presidency since democratic elections ended the most recent spell of military rule in 1999.

There are no publicly available opinion polls yet, and thus little way of knowing who is in the lead. In all four previous elections since 1999 the PDP has won with around 60% of the votes.

If Buhari bucks the trend and wins the elections, he will have his work cut out for him. Nigerians will be expecting him to urgently turn the tide in the military action against Boko Haram and find a way to fund ambitious plans in education, health care, social welfare and military reform.

Banking on oil would be akin to gambling, says Femi Awoyemi, CEO of Proshare, a Lagos-based market research consultanc­y. “Iran has just put its budget at $40/barrel; but Nigeria, a smaller producer, is putting $65 – how realistic is that?” Tolu Ogunlesi

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