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Vol 56 No 2

Published 23rd January 2015


Elections face new risks

With three weeks to go until voting day, almost half the electorate still lack voters’ cards and could be disenfranchised

New doubts about the timing of the presidential and governorship elections, currently due on 14 and 28 February respectively, will complicate national security. Because some 30 million out of the 68 million registered voters are yet to receive their biometric Permanent Voting Cards, there is a compelling case to postpone the elections, according to National Security Advisor Colonel Sambo Dasuki.

With almost half the electorate disenfranchised – the Independent National Electoral Commission stipulates that no one will be allowed to vote without their biometric cards – Dasuki told London's Chatham House think-tank that the competing political parties will have to find a way out of the crisis. Under present constitutional arrangements, the elections could be postponed for three months but the INEC makes the final decision. Presumably it would have to guarantee that it could deliver the remaining 30 mn. cards.

More difficult still would be getting the two parties – President Goodluck Jonathan's governing People's Democratic Party (PDP) and presidential challenger Muhammadu Buhari's opposition All Progressives Congress – to agree on a postponement and put their combined pressure on the INEC. However, such is the level of mistrust between the two parties, getting that cooperation could prove difficult.

On the face of it, neither side benefits from an election in which half the electorate is disenfranchised. But should INEC suggest dropping the requirement for biometric cards, the opposition is likely to cry foul, arguing that the governing PDP would be in a better position with control of the security apparatus to push fake voters through the polling stations.

This last minute problem adds to the economic and security threats: the halving of world prices for oil, still the dominant export, intensifying attacks by Boko Haram Islamist insurgents and a new wave of restiveness in the Niger Delta.

The coming elections are set to be the most closely fought since Independence in 1960. There is no ideological chasm between the two parties competing in the general elections: both are broadly centrist and pro-market, although the APC pushes more welfarist policies in the states that it controls. An undulating stream of defectors moves in each direction.

End of the elite's pacts
This is the first time an opposition party with a diverse national support base has taken on an incumbent party: it is the end of a long period of elite pacts in national politics. The most obvious sign was the defection of five PDP state governors two years ago. Now, of the 36 states, the APC has 14 governors and the PDP 21, with another under its influence. The governors' defections were followed by a high profile row between Jonathan and Central Bank Governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi over his claim that some US$20 billion of oil revenue had not been paid into the national accounts. Jonathan's subsequent suspension of Sanusi backfired: Sanusi was appointed Emir of Kano last year, despite Abuja's opposition (AC Vol 55 No 13, Sanusi's political throne).

Corporate barons are more taciturn than their political counterparts but the absence of businessmen such as Aliko Dangote and Femi Otedola at PDP fundraisers sends its own message. No such reticence from the military old guard. Just over a year ago, General Olusegun Obasanjo wrote a highly critical letter to Jonathan urging him not to stand for another term.

More remarkable still is Gen. Ibrahim Babangida's endorsement of Major Gen. Buhari's candidacy. Both were military leaders in the 1980s but fell out badly after Babangida organised a palace coup against Buhari and seized power in August 1985. All that is behind them, they insist.

Closer to home for Jonathan are the ructions in his political heartland in the Delta. It was Rotimi Amaechi, Governor of Rivers State, who spearheaded the defection of other PDP governors two years ago. He is now the APC leader in the Delta but still Governor of the second richest state. Next door in Bayelsa, Governor Henry Seriake Dickson, still nominally in the PDP, has been locked in a very public row with Patience Jonathan, the highly interventionist presidential wife.

However bad all that looks for Jonathan, his position is strengthened by historical and logistical realities. No incumbent party has ever lost power at the centre in elections, although a couple have in coups d'état. The opposition also has to field enough monitors to protect its vote at the count. Set against that are the PDP's impressive national reach, organisation and resources, and a well-honed electoral machine. It will back that up with a far bigger election war chest than the opposition, thanks to 15 years of power at the centre.

A key advantage for Jonathan and the PDP is their control of the national security apparatus. Central government deploys its own security chiefs to all states – opposition or pro-government – and Jonathan has announced that 300,000 security officers will be on the streets during voting.

Three states in the north-east – Adamawa, Borno and Yobe – are wracked by insurgents and under emergency rule. Far less reported is the communal violence in the Middle Belt and a growing tide of lawlessness across the north, against which police are making little headway. Alarms are again ringing in the Delta amid credible reports of substantial arms deliveries to militant groups. Human rights activists fear a return to the political violence of the 2000s or worse.

Most analysts reckon Jonathan will win comfortably in the south-south and south-east and Buhari will take the north-west and north-east. That leaves the Middle Belt and south-west, with the most registered electors, as the key battlegrounds. The main prize will be the commercial capital, Lagos, an opposition bastion. In 2011, Lagos and most of the south-west voted for the opposition in governorship elections but backed Jonathan for the presidency. Much will depend on whether Jonathan and the PDP can repeat that trick across the south-west.

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