With Nigeria due to go to the polls later this month Bala Yusuf Yunusa, of the Brooks World Poverty Institute at The University of Manchester, explores the impact the result may have on Nigeria’s international relations and particularly relations with the UK. Trade between the two nations is worth £8b a year. Bala has previously worked as team leader on the Millennium Villages Project in the country.
Nigeria’s general election on February 14 is currently too close to call. The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has been in power at the federal level for 16 years, since Nigeria returned to civilian rule, and previous elections were more or less a coronation ceremony to return them to power. The opposition parties were highly fragmented and regionally based – with some hardly fielding candidates at the general elections. Then, in 2013, the four major opposition political parties merged to form the All Progressives Congress (APC). Prominent members of the ruling party who are dissatisfied have decamped to the APC recently and continue to in the run up to the general election. This has further strengthened the APC and provides it with the most realistic attempt at the presidency yet, and a prospect of great change in Nigeria.
The APC is led by General Muhammad Buhari (rtd), who has previously held power as a Military Head of state in 1985. The current President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan is the Presidential candidate of the PDP seeking his second term in office. The APC is seeking to seize power by capitalizing on the seeming failure of the present administration to tackle corruption, insecurity and the failing economy. General Buhari is famous for his anti-corruption stance, discipline and military credentials. With him and other credible Nigerians, the APC is promising positive change to the Nigerian electorates.
The UK has a longstanding bilateral tie with Nigeria and has a special interest in the success of Nigeria’s nascent democracy. The UK government via the Department for International Development is currently spending approximately £35 million on a project to “deepen democracy” in Nigeria through supporting Nigerian political processes and electoral bodies, and increasing voter turnout. The elections and its aftermath will be a key test of this project and the UK’s investment –whether they take place successfully and whether the results are accepted peacefully.
The UK – Nigeria bilateral trade relationship is worth approximately £8 billion with an additional £275 million in aid from the UK to Nigeria annually. This is despite the inability of the current government of President Jonathan to tackle corruption in the country and rising insecurity in the north. Thus, analysts believe that change in government could bring about faster development and strengthen the existing bilateral relationship between Nigeria and the UK.
At the moment, there are concerns with the electoral processes and timetable – with reports that Permanent Voters Cards (PVC) distribution is still ongoing a few weeks to the general election. Some have called for the postponement of the general election to enable all registered to voters obtain their PVC. There are approximately 68.8 million registered voters in Nigeria according to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) who have continued to assure Nigerians and the international community that the elections will be held as planned.
The unusual nature of this general election is generating stronger interest and engagement in the electorate, with candidates campaigning vigorously and making use of new channels such as social media to mobilize support. However, the issues that should be the basis of the political parties’ campaigns are being ignored in favour of personality attacks among the leading presidential contenders and in some instances resorting to the promotion of ethnic and religious sentiments.
Unfortunately, just a few days to the general elections, the insecurity is increasing by the day with Boko Haram terrorists unleashing mayhem in the north-eastern part of the country. The government seems to be helpless on this and continuously promising to be on top of the situation.
General Buhari’s disciplinarian reputation is being used to promise Nigerians that this insecurity can be solved. But with this reputation comes accusations of prolific human rights abuses during the Military government he headed in the past – often still in the memories of Nigerians. There is also strong concern that the post-election violence of 2011 could repeat itself. Buhari has a ‘cult-like’ followership in the populous Northern Nigeria where the violence took place. The two major political parties recently signed a Pact called ‘Abuja Accord’ under the leadership of Mr. Kofi Annan (former Secretary of the United Nations) to ensure the 2015 general elections were conducted peacefully, and that they are free, fair and credible. The international community have also backed this accord, but there is still a perceived threat of violence from both sides no matter who wins the election, with fears that the country could be divided.
The General elections of February 2015 therefore present an opportunity and a promise of positive change for Africa’s largest economy and the UK’s second largest investment destination. Should the electorates turn towards a united opposition this time around, there is every possibility for improved security, reduced corruption and a stabilizing economy.
In the days after this post was written the elections in Nigeria were postponed because of the threat from Boko Haram.