For the first time in Nigeria's history, the ruling party was voted out of power by an opposition party - in a largely peaceful vote. This goes against all logic of the last 55 years of Nigerian modern history - that, whoever is in power, will do anything to stay in power - whether it's a coup, annulled election or 3rd term agenda.
But, let me state here for anyone getting carried away with a false sense of hindsight - this was most definitely not the outcome anyone expected and an outcome that almost didn't happen. A key former supporter of President Jonathan and member of the old elite revealed everyone’s fears when he congratulated Jonathan for conceding, and compared his actions with those of a very different outcome in the 1960’s civil war:
“If Ojukwu did the same after the fall of Enugu when his government fled into exile, if he had conceded victory to the federal troops, it would have saved the nation one full year of bloodshed,” said Danjuma during a meeting with Jonathan, after the elections.
(note: this post is about what happened in the election, not what will happen - more on that in another post!).
There are main five main actors responsible for this stunning electoral outcome (listed in, what I think is, order of importance)…
- Attahiru Jega (the Election Chairman)
- Goodluck Jonathan (the President)
- Nigerians (!)
- Bola Tinubu (South West Opposition Leader) & Mohammadu Buhari (Northern Opposition Leader)
Jega’s patient, bureaucratic composure under enormous pressure gave the whole electoral process a sense of inevitability and legitimacy - that anyone trying to derail the democratic process found almost impossible to stop. Jega is an understated man, whose role cannot be overstated.
Jega also picked his battles wisely - most importantly, the card readers. Arguably, this 2015 election saw more rigging, low-key electoral (not post-election) violence and corrupt money than 2011 - but it was widely seen as more credible for one reason: the electronic card readers meant, except for a few examples such as Rivers state, the turn-out numbers could not be inflated to 90%.
There is some controversy over President Jonathan’s role in these 2015 elections, but whether intentionally or unintentionally, he did two things key in this election that have secured an unprecedented strengthening of democracy in Nigeria:
- Jonathan refused to remove Jega from his position before the election.
- Jonathan made an historic call to concede to his opponent before the official results were announced, and without informing much of his inner circle.
Again, in hindsight it’s very easy to think that “of course” Jonathan should never have removed Jega and should have made that call to congratulate Buhari. But that was no one’s assumption until he made it (to put it in perspective - no one I’ve spoken to in APC or PDP was expecting that call) - and the timing of the call was critical.
Hardliners in the PDP government pushed Jonathan to contest the results behind-the-scenes, and, in front of the cameras, they even tried to derail the announcement of the results by shouting at Jega and calling the elections a sham - all with potentially disastrous consequences. Whether or not Jonathan was part of any of these manipulations - Jonathan stopped them on both accounts, and by calling Buhari before the results were officially announced, prevented any hardliners trying to force his hand.
Jonathan promised with Buhari there would be no violence, and that is the outcome he has delivered.
But also, perversely, in the eyes of so many Nigerians the Jonathan administration has performed so miserably in the last 5 years, that he became the greatest rallying call for change. Which brings us to the next actor:
Nigerians. I didn’t put the Nigerian people first in this list - because the fairness of this election was far from perfect, and turnout was terrible. But critically in the last 16 years, combined with mobile phones & the internet, a “sense” of democracy has been slowly but surely secured by Nigerians - the right of the citizen, that was not there when I arrived in 2004, has now fully formed itself.
But also, unlike in 2011, Nigerians made their decision less along religious and ethnic divisions - and increasingly along more practical, constructive challenges - such as security, corruption, and voting Jonathan out. They went to the polling stations, counted their votes and then returned to their homes peacefully across the country. A simple and powerful statement of democracy.
Buhari and Tinubu played a perfect opposition game. They mobilised their political base that they have built up over the last 16 years - particularly, Buhari in the north. But importantly, they are two very different personalities who have accommodated each other to gain power. This may sound obvious, but Buhari and Tinubu are not natural allies. That the APC has presented a united political campaign to unseat the ruling party is down to these two men.
Buhari also kept his supporters and the youth in northern Nigeria calm at key moments - for example, when some boys began to smash Goodluck posters in Kano after the election postponement, they were quickly calmed down. Any violence before the elections would have been disastrous for his campaign.
But, perhaps the most important opposition figure, is Tinubu. Buhari had nothing to lose, but TInubu had everything to lose. And yet, Tinubu refused a deal with Goodluck and put all his cards on the table. The gamble was enormous - because if Buhari lost, so too would Tinubu (as the close governorship elections in Lagos hinted at), and now Buhari has won, he still may not get everything he wants.
2011 vs 2015 - what’s the difference?
In 2011, Jonathan won a largely credible election, against the old elite, with high expectations as the first proper civilian President since 1999. So why is this 2015 election different?
To vote out a ruling party, if they are not thought to be performing, is what democracy is all about - not necessarily about the power of voting someone in, than voting someone OUT. And, again, it was done peacefully, unlike in 2011 when over 800 people were killed in post-election violence across the north.
But don’t forget the Northern Elite…
In 1999, the PDP was set up as a northern political vehicle to control Nigerian power and oil. Obasanjo was supposed to be a minor interval before handing back power to the north. However, Obasanjo’s machinations, Yar’Adua’s death and Jonathan’s rise to the Presidency threatened the north’s grip on power.
As one Northerner told me - the 2015 election was a “now or never" moment for the north to take back full control of power.
Finally culminating in IBB’s statement against the criticism of the old generals by the Jonathan government, a few weeks before the election, the old northern elite largely fell in behind Buhari - despite many reservations. The elite’s support in the north that helped Jonathan win in 2011 evaporated and, without even much of old guard’s tacit support, Jonathan’s options to rig and contest were severely narrowed.
But in some ways the elite had little choice… the post-election violence in 2011 also targeted politicians who were thought to have supported Jonathan’s bid in the north. And so few northern politicians this time could (openly) support Jonathan for fear of violent reprisals. If Jonathan won again, there were serious concerns the violence would be worse this time, and the illegitimacy of the election would fuel support for groups like Boko Haram. The so-called “north” is already not a cohesive region and has plenty of divisions, but it was at serious risk of splintering irreconcilably and forever destroying the elite’s influence. But this election was a dramatic example of the region’s power when the people and elites from both North West and North East are united.
But the north still couldn’t do it alone. The Buhari-Tinubu alliance meant Nigeria’s two most populous regions, the North West and South West along the Kano-Lagos axis - could out vote the rest of the country.
(note: this alliance also meant that religion was not such a defining factor as it was in the 2011 election - which is also a very positive development, despite the campaign rhetoric used by Jonathan's govt)
The north abandoned the PDP, a political alliance set up by the northern elite and a set of heavily rigged states & governors in the Niger Delta (an alliance that was broken after Jonathan’s rise to power meant the Niger Delta controlled both power and oil)… in other words, to win back power, the north has been forced to abandon political control over the oil - 70% of Nigeria’s revenue.
Instead, the rump of the PDP opposition party, largely controlled by a loose group of heavily armed, angry, dispossessed oil militants, who are now very much aware of how much money goes through Abuja - a town they will never govern again - are now sitting on top of the oil. How Buhari handles the militants will be critical - if he negotiates then there will be no change, but if he doesn’t then Nigeria’s fragile economy could take a serious hit if oil pipelines are attacked (more on all that in another post!).
But across the rest of country - despite decades of military, northern rule - Nigerians were convinced to democratically vote back into power an old northern general. A tongue-in-cheek democratic coup, if you like!
There were expectations in 2011 that Jonathan should perform - and when he didn’t, he was voted out. The popular vote has been given a platform and proved itself. It will be very difficult to take that away and it can now, for the first time in Nigeria’s history, be presumed that anyone who does not meet the expectations of the people can be voted out.
I used the phrase "what in the hell" in the title of this article, because that is where Nigeria is coming from politically.
The 2015 elections changed the party, the politics, the regional alliances, the democratic mandate, the past narrative, and more importantly, the future.
ps. a few warning signs/things to get right for the next election in 2019…
- recorded voter turn out was: 28,496,841. And we can assume that a larger proportion of those are made up voters (for example in Rivers state, underage voters in the north, etc). And turnout was even worse in the Governorship elections - which arguably have more impact on peoples lives. People must vote for democracy to survive.
- Jega has announced he will not stand as Electoral Chairman for another term. There were very serious irregularities with this election and inside INEC itself, that even Jega has failed to stop. Can INEC survive as an independent institution?
- a strong opposition party has served Nigeria well over the last few years. But APC’s control of the Presidency, House of Representatives, Senate and majority of Governorships - as well as the PDP’s almost near collapse as an opposition party - threaten to make Nigeria a near one-party state again.
#Nigeria #Goodluck #Buhari #APC #PDP #Jega #NigerianElection2015
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- Loyola College, IbadanTeacher, 2013 - 2014Science Teacher of junior high school
- University of BeninHealth Education, 2008 - 2012
- Univesity of IbadanPublic Health with Health Policy and Management, 2016 - 2017Postgraduate School
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