Mallam Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai, Nigeria’s former minister of the Federal Capital Territory, spoke at Chatham House last week. In his public remarks–“Nigerian Democracy and Prospects for the 2011 Elections”–El-Rufai demonstrates his cautious optimism for the April polls. The elections have the potential to be an “opportunity for reconciliation” and the start of myriad reforms. However, El-Rufai also suggests another possible outcome: if the 2011 elections experience the fraud of the 2003 and 2007 polls, then urban areas may witness large, potentially violent street protests. He said:
If INEC conducts decent elections next month, the link between politics and governance will be established and our democracy will begin to deliver real dividends… If the 2011 elections turn out to be as flawed as the those of 2003 or 2007, I do not think the opposition candidates have sufficient confidence in the Judiciary to take their complaints to the Courts. In fact one of them has publicly declared that he would not. In that case, the discontent will spread to the streets of the major urban centres. I predict massive protests in various parts of the country, as we have witnessed recently in Cote D’Ivoire and some countries in North Africa and the Middle East, until those that steal the elections vacate office.
In a forthcoming article on Foreign Affairs’ website, Asch Harwood and I formulate a not dissimilar argument about the outcomes of Nigeria’s elections. Like El-Rufai, we are somewhat optimistic about the prospects of a peaceful vote, and we also recognize the real possibility of violence.