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Op-ed

Nigeria Post-Presidential-Election Violence

Chinua Akukwe, April 26, 2011

The April 16 Nigeria presidential election, according to official results from the national election commission, was won by the incumbent president Dr. Goodluck Jonathan with 57 percent of the vote. International and domestic observers are hailing the presidential election as credible. The Africa Union, the ECOWAS, the European Union, the European Parliament, the U.S. National Democratic Institute, the U.S. International Republican Institute and the Commonwealth Secretariat observer teams acknowledged a credible, though far from perfect, election. It appears that Nigeria may have taken a credible step toward free and fair elections. 

However, the election is now overshadowed by the massive post-election violence that erupted in northern parts of the country by individuals ostensibly rejecting the loss by the main presidential challenger, General Muhammadu Buhari, a former head of state. The violence has resulted in at least 200 deaths, thousands gruesomely injured and the displacement of more than 40,000 people across six states. The number of dead may be much higher, as the local Red Cross and medical units are reportedly not releasing casualty figures that may ignite revenge killings in parts of the country.

 
Dr. Jonathan won overwhelmingly in states located in the mostly Christian southern parts of Nigeria and also won plurality in most of the minority middle-belt states in the north. General Buhari won convincingly in core Muslim states of northern Nigeria, barely making any credible inroad in the south. Christian places of worship, ethnic northern minorities and families originally from southern parts of Nigeria were major targets of the post-election violence. Violence broke out in the northern part of the country even before the formal announcement of the winner. This development is worrisome since it shows that a significant section of Nigerian voters had lost faith on the capacity of the country to organize free and fair elections, despite the attempts of the national election commission to organize credible polls, including pushing the presidential election forward by a week to solve intractable logistic and technical problems.
 
As a country where free and fair election at all levels since its independence in 1960 is rare, and where at least three generations of politicians have risen to power without fear of the ballot box due to electoral manipulations, Nigeria is ripe for genuine political reforms. In a country where no senior political figure has ever been tried for inciting political violence despite thousands of lives lost in the past, the possibility of future violence is not only real but can become more deadly and widespread. Incumbent President Jonathan should use the ugly events of recent days to launch genuine, comprehensive political reforms in Nigeria.
 
As a country ruled by military governments for more than half of its 50 years as a nation, political reforms need to be embedded in the fabric and tapestry of Nigeria body politic. Politicians, the economic elite, election administrators and political followers in Nigeria need to become steeped in the rich roots of population-based democracy to safeguard the future survival of this important African country. The need for political reforms will not be completed in the next four years—the tenure of a new president in Nigeria. However, an irreversible culture of political transparency is possible within the next four years if the reelected president and the political class make a substantial down payment on political reforms.
 
Nigeria's comprehensive political reforms should be based on five interrelated planks.
 
First, Nigeria should adopt and implement a non-partisan, transparent policy of free and fair elections at all levels between now and the next presidential election in 2015. The best test of this renewed policy is the gubernatorial and state assembly elections taking place today. Governors control significant resources and have the most capacity to make a major difference in the lives of Nigerians. In addition, the process for post-election redress and litigation should be reformed to ensure completion of electoral cases on time, ensure the integrity of the electoral judicial process and assure the sanctity of rulings in electoral disputes. Furthermore, the oversized role of money in running for elections in Nigeria should be reformed in such a way that lack of substantial financial resources should not be an impediment to running for high office.
 
Second, Nigeria should renew its fight for accountability and transparency in governance as the foundation of comprehensive political reforms.This commitment should not be in response to pressure from international development partners or Western nations. It should be a new indigenous mindset that seeks to provide maximum value to Nigerian taxpayers on all matters of state. It is a mindset that will neither allow a snake to watch over mice nor allow a whale to supervise a foot race on dry land. It is a mindset that recognizes the paramount importance of the affairs of the state, more important than political party affiliations, ethnic jingoism and religious differences, and will not tolerate inefficiencies and waste in government operations in the midst of soaring poverty and widespread suffering.
 
The quest for accountability and transparency in governance will require a new mindset in the choice and deployment of ministers and ambassadors; implementation of government policies, especially as it relates to project monitoring, implementation and evaluation; the relationship between the government and the organized private sector, small and medium scale entrepreneurs (the engine room of economic growth in rich nations) and the civil society as genuine collaborators in the quest for national development. This new mindset will also focus on strengthening national institutions on governance, including those that fight corruption, and Nigerian embassies around the world.
 
Third, Nigeria needs to make a commitment to the rule of law by strengthening its judiciary, law enforcement agencies and houses of parliament.Without an unambiguous commitment to the rule of law, political reforms become blasé. Every politician or an aspiring one should have confidence that the judicial branch of government is not only independent but can be counted upon to deliver legal opinions based on the rule of law. Verifiable progress should be made within the next four years in reforming the police and other law enforcement agencies. The National Assembly of federal parliamentarians and state houses of assembly as part of credible political reforms should be reinforced technically and logistically to fulfill their constitutional obligations of holding the executive branch of government accountable. Houses of parliament at federal and state levels have important roles to play in deepening political reforms by passing legislation that strengthens transparency of government operations, promotes the rule of law and monitors the judicious use of scarce national resources.
 
Fourth, Nigeria needs to have a genuine, multi-party system that generates competing ideas for national development. Today, the ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party, has been the dominant party since 1999 and is active in most parts of the country. Major opposition parties have either strong ethnic, religious or geographic identities. Nigeria has a long history of ruling parties that seek total domination of the political space, perhaps a hangover from the long years of military rule. The generation of ideas, vigorous principled debates and marketing of competing political platforms is largely absent in Nigeria due to lack of real competition between the ruling party and opposition parties.
 
The tendency of Nigerian politicians to cross over to parties in government and benefit from public patronage has crippled opposition parties in the past, since the government is the overwhelming dominant player in the nation's economy. The result is that the political space in Nigeria is almost sterile when it comes to competing ideas on national development. As part of comprehensive political reforms, the government should create a level playing field for opposition parties to better organize, conduct political activities and market their ideas to the public. Freedom of speech, assembly and association should be cherished beacons of political reforms as it relates to political parties. The result of the presidential election has shown the need for strong, independent national political parties. The alternative is a default into smaller but more homogenous parties coalesced around religious, ethnic and geographical tendencies, more likely to explode with minimum provocation.
 
Finally, Nigeria's leaders should focus on delivering basic dividends of democracy to its citizens. Despite being the largest producer of crude oil in Africa with the capacity to produce 2.5 million barrels of crude oil a day, more than 80 percent of Nigerians live on less than $2 a day, according to the United Nations' figures. Youth unemployment is more than 72 percent in some parts of the country. According to the World Bank, income inequality in Nigeria is one of the widest in the world.
 
Despite spending more than $16 billion on electricity generation between 1999 and 2010, Nigeria has only 4,000 megawatts of electricity, the equivalent of the electricity consumption of a typical urban city in the United States. In all indices of development compiled by the United Nations and the World Bank, Nigeria rankings belie its abundant natural resources and earnings of more than $300 billion from oil over the last four decades. Transportation networks, potable water supply and basic sanitation are still major challenges in Nigeria. Children still struggle to learn in dilapidated classrooms, and pregnant mothers have limited access to health centers and clinics for prenatal care and delivery services.
 
Simply put, Nigeria needs to get its act together or it risks facing political rumblings currently taking place in North Africa and the Middle East.
 
Political reform in Nigeria is a journey, not a destination. Even the richest and most technologically advanced countries in the world continue to make progress in political reforms. Nigeria, the second-largest economy in the continent (after South Africa), appears to have made a decisive stride towards representative government with the April 2011 presidential election. However, this step in the right direction has been tempered by the post-election violence. In the ashes of this tragedy may emerge a new Nigeria committed to genuine, comprehensive political reforms.

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