Postponing the Nigerian Election – A Postscript

Postponing the Nigerian Election – A Postscript


Howard Adelman

The Nigerian conflict with Boko Haram has become a regional war. Two days ago, BH hijacked a bus in Cameroon near Koza, 18 km from the Nigerian border. BH kidnapped 20-30 Cameroonian civilians. At the same time, in a firefight between Cameroonian soldiers and BH, when militants attacked Kerawa, several BH fighters were killed and 10 Cameroon soldiers were injured. A third attack took place in the town of Kolofata.

Complementing the spread of the war to Chad and Cameroon, Benin and now Niger have joined the coalition to wipe out BH after Niger’s parliament unanimously approved sending troops to northern Nigeria, provoked in part when a BH suicide bomber heading towards a military base was shot dead by Niger soldiers after militants bombed Diffa, killing five, the third attack in four days. Little Niger alone massed three thousand soldiers in Diffa as part of the new initiative, though only a small part of those troops will enter Nigeria. A joint regional force of 8,700 troops has now been assembled to launch a direct assault against BH strongholds. As you will see, I suggest this as a partial explanation for the six-week postponement of Nigeria’s election. Military success will benefit Goodluck Jonathan, whose support has been declining according to some recent polls.

The day before yesterday morning, I had written that the Independent Electoral National Commission (INEC) and President Goodluck Jonathan were determined to go ahead with elections in Nigeria in spite of enormous pressures to postpone. The very same day, the same INEC announced that the scheduled 14 February elections in Nigeria will be postponed until 18 March. I had written that I had not expected this to happen.

The postponement was not illegal. Section 135 (3) of the 1999 Constitution, provides that if the federation is at war (my italics) in which the territory of Nigeria is physically involved, and, further if the President (my italics) considers that it is not practicable to hold elections, the National Assembly (my italics) may, by resolution, extend the period of four years mentioned in sub-section (2) of this section from time to time; but no such extension shall exceed a period of six months at any one time.

The grounds for postponement is war on Nigerian territory. The initiative to postpone must come from the President. The legislation to legalize the postponement must be passed by the National Assembly. Yet INEC made the announcement. On 14 May 2013, President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in the three northeastern states on the grounds that, “These actions (of BH) amount to a declaration of war (my italics) and a deliberate attempt to undermine the authority of the Nigerian state and threaten its territorial integrity.” Clearly the precondition for declaring a state of war has existed for almost two years.

The Commission resisted pressure from many quarters that had arisen in January. The founding Pastor of a large Lagos evangelical Christian congregation, the Latter Rain Assembly, and former vice presidential candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Tunde Bakare, had urged the federal government to postpone the election. For him, the terrorism in the northeastern states was not even a civil war but an “invasion and annexation of Nigerian territory by insurgents launching attacks from our borders and neighbouring countries.”

Secular human rights organizations had joined the chorus. But instead of appealing to the president and/or the National Assembly, Citizens Advocacy for Social and Economic Rights (CASER) approached the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice to request a suspension of the February 14, 2015 general elections in Nigeria. The Executive Director, Frank Tiete, based the organization’s support for postponement on the early warning system that I had helped set up for ECOWAS that indicated that the situation was getting worse. The ECOWAS Protocol relating to the mechanism for conflict prevention, management, resolution, peace keeping and security permitted ECOWAS to “disseminate the report of the Threat Assessment of the Security Situation in Nigeria.” However, ECOWAS had no power to order a postponement of the Nigerian election. But, based on the deteriorating human rights situation in the three northeastern states, ECOWAS certainly had not only a right but a duty to publish its findings. ECOWAS could put pressure on the Nigerian government on the grounds that such a suspension was needed to protect and preserve a Nigerian citizen’s fundamental human right to life.

Based on security reports and on the actual situation on the ground, in January, prominent politicians had also been pressuring the president to postpone the election. Governor Bala Ngilari of Adamawa State in the third week of January joined the chorus pushing for a postponement of the elections. At the end of October 2014, Ngilari had issued the request to widespread derision after Mubi, the second largest metropolis in Adamawa, had been captured by BH. The Emir had been forced to flee. BH shot and wounded the son of ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, a Lieutenant Colonel, when the army tried to recapture the town. The outcome: six Nigerian commanding officers were put under arrest for neglect of duty. The situation was dire then. It had grown much worse since.

Some parties went to court urging postponement. The anti-February 14 group threatened to boycott the election should their demands be ignored. A week ago, leaders of a wide variety of parties, which had previously pooh-poohed any postponement, now threatened to boycott the election if there was not a postponement. 16 out of 28 registered political parties and five presidential candidates joined the campaign to postpone the election. They did not call on the President but on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to seriously consider shifting the date of elections to March or April.

(Although the presidential candidate of the United Progressive Party (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie, opposed postponement, the parties favouring were: United Democratic Party (UDP), Citizen Peoples Party (CPP), Peoples Party of Nigeria (PPN), Action Alliance (AA), Peoples Democratic Congress (PDC), Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN), Labour Party (LP), Mega Progressive Peoples Party (MPPP), United Party of Nigeria (UPN), Alliance for Democracy (AD), African Democratic Congress (ADC), Advanced Congress Of Democrats (ACD), Democratic Peoples Party (DPP), New Nigerian Peoples Party (NNPP) Peoples Party of Nigeria (PPN) and Independent Democrat (ID). The five presidential candidates who were present at a press conference in Abuja where the demand was made were Godson Okoye (UDP), Chief Sam Okoye (CPP), Prince C.O Allagoe (PPN), Tunde Anifowose (AA) and Ganiu Galadima (ACPN).)

Colonel Sambo Dasuki (rtd), President Goodluck Jonathan’s National Security Adviser (NSA), now advocated postponement in view of the poor distribution of Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVCs), the biometric registry and machine-readable permanent voter cards designed to curb fraud and duplicate registrations. (Some critics challenged the legality of the PVCs because they were not authorized by current legislation.) INEC would then have enough time to distribute the remaining PVCs so that more than 98% of registered voters would have collected their PVCs. At the time, 80% had been distributed and the expectation was that 90% would be distributed by the time of the election.

Further, the problem was not only the terrible security situation in the northeastern states, but the anticipation of violence following the election however it turned out. After all, 800 died in post-2011 election violence and there was enormous property destruction even though, relatively speaking, the 2011 election had been the best thus far. INEC created and co-chairs the “Interagency Consultative Committee on Election Security” (ICCES), to ensure security before, during and immediately after the elections. Further, these efforts had been supplemented by a non-violence campaign, voter education, citizen monitoring NGOs, and the Abuja Accord among the political parties to desist from incendiary attacks, inflammatory speaches and violent acts, and to focus on issues. Various religious leaders, such as the Sultan of Sokoto and the Cardinal of Abuja, formed the Nigeria Inter-Faith Initiative for Peace to counteract religious divisions during elections.

Nevertheless, Rev. Bakare saw the postponement as only an interim measure to allow the country to create a grand coalition that could decisively counter the enemy. As he foresaw the results of the election, whomever won, “it is certain the country will erupt in crisis.” The president should “commit himself to building a non-partisan coalition comprised of major stakeholders and competent statesmen from each geo-political zone.” In fact, the controversy over the postponement issue itself had grown so heated that the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Suleiman Abba, ordered the Special Protection Unit (SPU) and Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU) to be deployed around INEC officials and to guard election materials.

Commentators have blamed pressure from the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), claiming the party fears losing the election to former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC). John Kerry, U.S. Secretary of State, urged that the election not be postponed. It did not help that, upon his visit to Nigeria, he only chose to speak to two presidential candidates. Talk about foreign political eminences interfering in domestic politics! Nevertheless, Buhari urged calm, insisting that the presidential elections now scheduled for 28 March and the state elections scheduled for 11 April must be sacrosanct. “Any act of violence can only complicate the security challenges in the country and provide further justification to those who would want to exploit every situation to frustrate the democratic process.” President Goodluck Jonathan committed himself to finishing his term of office on 29 May. Though, thus far, this had been a hotly contested election in a very close-fought contest, at least there had been no open hostility over the postponement decision by the two leading candidates.

Other foreign eminences than John Kerry had weighed in and may have influenced the decision. Dr. Princeton Nathan Lyman, a former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria (1986-1989) and former Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs (1996–1998), currently an Adjunct Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies with the Council on Foreign Relations, not only supported postponement by pointing to the fragility of the electoral process, the inadequate preparations for the election and the disruption caused by BH terrorism in the context of a Nigerian army enormously incapacitated by corruption, but also cited a much deeper structural flaw: “a breakdown of the informal consensus on power sharing between the Muslim north and the Christian south that had guided Nigerian politics for decades.” Falling oil prices did not help. The impact on the Nigerian economy will exacerbate the competition for political patronage. In spite of his membership on the board of the National Endowment for Democracy, Lyman urged postponement.

Six-weeks will not enable the deep corruption of Nigerian society and the weaknesses of democratic protections, even within political parties in selecting candidates, to be overcome or even significantly mitigated. The use of public resources by government officials and the allocation of public funds and services to favour ethnic and religious cohorts in extended patronage networks are bound to continue. So why postpone? No one disputes the enormity of the security and political challenges, but what is gained by a six- week postponement?

The very recent intervention of the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, which sent a special high-level delegation to report on the electoral process, also recommended postponement in January, pointing to the insecurity in the northeast and the lack of adequate election preparations with the consequence of enormous opportunities for fraud as well as contention and violence following the election. That pre-election assessment mission included Robert Lloyd (Blanche E. Seaver Professor of International Studies and Languages and Professor of International Relations at Pepperdine University), Gretchen Birkle (Regional Director, Africa International at the International Republican Institute), George Moose (a former ambassador and Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs), Christopher Fomunyoh (Senior Associate for Africa and Regional Director at the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs), Brigalia Bam (former chairperson of the Independent Electoral Commission of South Africa), Hon. Patrick Muyaya (MP, the Democratic Republic of Congo), Pauline Baker (former president of the Fund for Peace) and Michael Bratton (University Distinguished Professor of Political Science and African Studies at Michigan State University). Yet, despite the eminence of the delegation, John Kerry and Barack Obama chose to ignore their advice of their 20 January statement in Abuja.

Recognizing the increasing protections for democratic election processes in the four elections since the end of military rule in 1999, particularly the 2011 election, and conscious of the growing and often expressed determination of Nigerians to ensure that the election is peaceful and credible through all phases of the process, including during the campaign period, on election day and in the post-election period after the release of final election results, and in spite of the failure to create an Electoral Offences Commission as long recommended, the goals of the mission of eminent persons were to:

  • assess  the current political  and  electoral  environment in the lead-up to the 14 February presidential election;
  • assess preparations for the presidential election and offer recommendations to enhance citizen confidence in the process and mitigate violence; and
  • demonstrate international support for Nigeria’s democratization process.

A delay certainly will not solve the deeper political, structural and economic problems, but will, as Nigeria’s National Security Advisor Sambo Dasuki pointed out, give time to resolve the short term administrative problems that could be catalysts of much more violence. Lyman went further and echoed Rev. Tunde Bakare’s call for a government of national unity to include representatives from business and religious groups as well as political leaders and raise the battle against Boko Haram above party politics, given widespread accusations of both complacency and complicity by each party against the other. The national unity government would then be able to deal with the issue of underdevelopment of the northeast that Lyman viewed as the deep cause of the insurgency. The government of national unity would also offer time to deal with the problems plaguing the security forces in Nigeria.

Fat chance of a government of national unity! (But recall that I was wrong in anticipating that the election would go ahead as planned.) Election postponement does not even have the support of the Obama administration let alone creating a consensus national unity government. Six weeks cannot deal with the enormous fall off in confidence in a fair electoral process. In 2011, 51% had confidence the elections would be fair; in 2014, that number had declined to 13% percent for the scheduled 2015 election. Lyman is well aware and articulated all the weaknesses of most governments of national unity but, nevertheless, saw this as the only option for the salvation of Nigeria. Aside from what I regard as this forlorn possibility, six more weeks may offer some time for administrative improvements in the election, but will also have a negative impact, giving more time for the fall in oil prices to have an effect. Hope for administrative improvement offers the sugar coating on deep pessimism.

These interim efforts would include developing a much better communication strategy and voter education strategy by INEC as election preparations proceed and many of the technical problems plaguing that process are ironed out. The interim period would be used to offer a concerted effort to ensure that PVCs are in the hands of as much as 98% of voters rather than the current expectation of 90%. But will the security forces be able to protect polling stations, especially in the northeastern states? And, given the legislation, there are no plans underway to re-enfranchise IDP voters who now constitute almost 20% of the 4.5 million registered voters in the three northeastern states (Adamawa 1.5, Borno 1.9 and Yobe 1.1 million). The key variable, however, will be the regional military initiative that will take the war into BH home ground.

It may also determine the outcome of the election.

One comment on “Postponing the Nigerian Election – A Postscript

  1. 1. Michiel Horn

    Thanks, Howard, you made me think. As the historian of one group who might be described as public intellectuals, the League for Social Reconstruction — you mention Frank Scott, Frank Underhill and David Lewis; I would add Eugene Forsey, King Gordon, George Grube, Eric Havelock, Escott Reid, Gregory Vlastos among others — and briefly an adherent of another, the University League for Social Reform. I found your exposition fascinating.

    Were I to write a comprehensive critique, I would note that the rootedness of Canadian intellectuals in the parliamentary system made a real difference. This contributed to the absence of anything like a McCarthyite witch-hunt in the universities. (There was something like it in the federal public service and the National Film Board, aimed at possible communists, but even more at homosexuals or bisexuals, believed to be vulnerable to blackmail — John Holmes and Douglas LePan come readily to mind — but it was carried on discreetly.) The reasons for the differences between Canada and the US with respect to this matter I’ve listed in my book Academic Freedom in Canada: A History, pp. 217-8, and I won’t repeat them here, except for my final point: “The most important reason for the absence of a anticommunist witch-hunt in Canadian universities was a lack of real or apprehended witches to be hunted.” Even the dismissal of the biochemist George Hunter from the University of Alberta in 1949 was probably less for his opinions, which were well left of centre, than for his troubled relations with the university’s president and with some of his colleagues (pp. 195-203).

    Enough! I have other things to do today. Again, thanks!

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