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Vol 55 No 25

Published 19th December 2014


Political storm warning

The opposition is looking stronger but officials are sounding alarms about serious flaws in the election organisation

It has been a good month for the opposition All Progressives Congress. The APC's successful national convention in Lagos picked Muhammadu Buhari as its presidential candidate on 11 December. Combined with unrelenting bad news for President Goodluck Jonathan, that is eating into his incumbent's advantage just two months before general elections. With security and economic conditions the dominant issues, the governing People's Democratic Party is coming under growing pressure from ever more murderous attacks by Boko Haram's Islamist insurgents and the effects of crashing oil prices. 

On 17 December, Economy Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told the National Assembly that at 4.3 trillion naira (US$23.4 billion), the 2015 budget would be the smallest for four years. Jonathan's woes, glossed over in a bizarre video comparing him to Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy and Nelson Mandela, have given the opposition a filip. 

Many had expected  that the APC's convention to choose its flagbearer would descend into an acrimonious shambles. Instead, Kayode Fayemi, the former Governor of Ekiti State, organised a credible voting system that avoided the usual recriminations about rigging and bribing. Buhari won 3,400 of 8,000 votes, far ahead of his rivals, former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar and Kano State Governor Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso. Buhari's next task was to pick his running mate. The APC's two main components are Buhari's faction, with substantial grassroots support in the north, and Lagos ex-Governor Bola Tinubu's faction in the south-west, which controls most state governments in the region. Tinubu suggested three names to Buhari: himself, the popular Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola, and Professor Yemi Osinbajo, former Attorney General for Lagos.

Buhari chose Osinbajo, now a lawyer in private practice: he is Christian (Buhari, Tinubu and Fashola are Muslim) and, given the importance of regional and religious identity, he balances the ticket. Apart from pushing through key judicial reforms in Lagos, Osinbajo is married to the granddaughter of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the legendary Yoruba nationalist leader. 

The elite is divided. Business people prefer the status quo. However, those who fear the economic effects of rampant corruption and the failure of state security in the north want change. All this presages one of Nigeria's closest ever elections. That reinforces concern about the readiness of the Independent National Electoral Commission, which has received just under half of the N93 bn. ($560 million) funding it requested. Millions of people in opposition strongholds claim not to have received voting cards. 

INEC's plan to add another 30,000 polling stations is suspended but no clear policy has emerged on enabling voting in states hit by the insurgency. At least 1.5 million people have been forced from their homes in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states, all opposition strongholds. Worst of all is the proliferation of weaponry all over Nigeria, especially in the Delta and the north-east. The failure of the security agencies to tackle violence and criminality, or to show political neutrality, augurs extremely badly. 

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