John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Nigeria: “Credible” Elections Reinforce the Divide

by John Campbell
April 20, 2011

2011 Presidential Election Map, April 19, 2011. Courtesy of INEC/BBC. (

In the aftermath of the presidential elections, Nigeria is dancing closer to the brink. Goodluck Jonathan, the incumbent president and Christian from the South, has defeated Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim from the North, in an election that the international community has deemed to be credible, albeit far from perfect. In addition, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the Nigerian security services have won high marks from international observers and many civil society groups for overseeing the significant improvements in polling (as compared to the events of 2007). The elections also mobilized previously marginalized factions of Nigeria’s populace–including civil organizations, women, and the youth–to participate in Nigerian governance. In some parts of the country, social media also played a positive role for the first time.

However, the final tally of the votes indicates widespread rigging, mostly to the advantage of incumbent president Jonathan. As such, the fraudulent counting predominantly occurred at the collation centers, and it is conceivable that governors belonging to the ruling People’s Democratic party (PDP) orchestrated the rigging. The massive amounts of cash that the PDP disbursed also disfigured the elections. In light of the fraud, the leading opposition candidate, Muhammadu Buhari has flatly rejected the election results, and none of the opposition parties have been willing to endorse the final election figures.

The results of the presidential election show a clear division within the country between the North-South, Muslim-Christian lines, (as can clearly be seen in the BBC map above). In the past, an elite powersharing arrangement, whereby the presidency alternated every eight years between North and South, avoided this bifurcation. Had this arrangement continued, a Muslim president representing the North would have taken occupancy of the presidency for the next four years. Jonathan’s successful candidacy has ended this form of powersharing. Widespread rioting in the North has continued for almost five days, indicating that region does not accept Jonathan’s victory. Traditional rulers in the North who supported Jonathan–notably the Sultan of Sokoto, the Emir of Zaria, and the Emir of Zazzau–are in hiding and their private residences have been torched. Unconfirmed reports are coming out of the North telling of house-to-house searches and murders of PDP supporters. Christian churches have also been burned.

The federal government is using the police (a national institution in Nigeria) and the army to try to curtail the violence and regain control. The violence in the North is almost entirely unreported in the Western media, minus Al Jazeera, WSJ, and CNN correspondents stationed in Abuja and Lagos. The federal government is not releasing statistics. This is wise, as there must be concern about a backlash against Muslim Hausa-Fulani living in predominately Christian parts of the country. There is, for example, an unconfirmed report of the murder of up to two hundred Hausa-Fulani in the predominately Christian part of Kaduna state. (In the polls, the state as a whole went for Buhari.) Nevertheless, it is difficult to judge whether the rioting in the North has become a genuinely popular movement or whether it will burn itself out, as has happened in the past.

Eyes are on the April 26 gubernatorial elections. In the past, they too have often engendered violence as a result of local rivalries. Many are expecting to witness similar chaos this time. The electoral commission says that the elections will take place as scheduled.  The fact that some fifteen percent of the House and Senate contests are set to take place on the April 26 puts added pressure on the commission to ensure that the elections go ahead. However, if violence in the North continues, the government might have to postpone them. If they do take place, similar results are likely to reinforce the North-South bifurcation that has so starkly manifested itself in the presidential elections.

To view video on Restoring Nigeria’s zoning, click here.

Post a Comment 5 Comments

  • Posted by Mazino Dickson-Amagada

    Your Excellency,

    I must say that i have followed your analysis on Nigeria since you left our shores as Ambassador. I do recall as a journalist i had the chance of interviewing you on several occassions.

    Your observations have been very critical in unearthing some of the ever-growing challenges confronting a heterogeneous society like Nigeria.

    I am one of those who believe that the instrumentality of zoning helps to cut-away the Nigerian penchant of focusing on the POLITICS OF POWER, rather than the POLITICS OF GOVERNANCE. Sadly, this has reared its ugly head following the presidential elections. While they are definitely not perfect, the general view is that the elections were the best in two decades and that the incumbent GEJ won.

    Perhaps the rigging like you mentioned took place during collation. Another fact is that the voting pattern openly showed regional, ethnic and religious slants.

    Despite these however, i strongly believe that resorting to this level of violence has really caused political damage, and even if the elections are re-run, people will now openly vote based on religion and ethnicity, and based on the voting pattern, and nobody will be willing to concede defeat.

    There is no doubt that religious leaders have a serious role to play now, because anything said could heal or further fuel the anger. It is clear that the power of influence and control in Nigeria is gradually shifting to the churches and mosques. They have to be at the vanguard of reclaiming Nigeria from this looming abyss of social unrest, violence, bloodshed and death.

    What is important now is for Nigeria’s political leadership at all levels to convene a National Conference to fully deliberate on the basis for co-existence. There is no doubt that all sections or Geo-political zones (Six in number) have one grievance or another, needs and wants. The Political class must summon courage to address the NATIONAL QUESTION once and for all. Of paramount importance is the zoning, if we must use it, then it must be clearly stated in Nigeria’s Constitution, otherwise we should forget about it, as it is fanning the amber of discord and ethnic nationalism in a negative way.

    A return to full-blown federalism is now non-negotiable. Once each state has a level of autonomy, politicians will stop killing themselves about “WHO’S THE LANDLORD AT THE VILLA.”

    At this point, the role of the military will come into focus, whatever stance they take now is very vital. But any prompted military incursion at this time will definitely bring the “NIGERIAN EPIC MOVIE” to a quick, sad end. The international community must assist Nigeria at this time so as to check any horrific occurrence.

    Nigerians of all ethnic nationalities, religions, tongues or creed all crave the same things – good governance,infrastructure, power, shelter and clothing. But unless the country’s SUPERSTRUCTURE (Political) is adequately addressed, the SUBSTRUCTURE (Economic and Social) cannot function, and without these two vital factors settles, we might just be skiing on thin ice.

  • Posted by mahdi

    Thank you Mr. Campbelle for that balanced account of the Nigeria Presidential elections that was plagued with widespread rigging by officials of government in order to ensure that the incumbent President of Nigeria retains his seat for the next four years. The Nigerian government is doing everything possible to convince the world that the presidential elections were transparent, free and fair. To this end, one can see the commitment of the Nigerian government to deceit, perjury and insincerity. It is a known fact that the activities of militants in the South-South oil rich region of Nigeria have continued to unleash unimaginable terror through organized bombings of oil installations, kidnappings of foreign expatriates and demanding huge ransoms; and yet the government went into negotiation with them to lay down their arms at a staggering costs. Now that some youths are venting their anger over the clearly rigged and stolen votes from their zones, Mr President is calling them “miscreants” (an indication of double standard) will fuel more hatred from the Northern youths that are evidently so defiant in calming down.
    The greatest danger posed by this avoidable incident is that now that even the untouchable traditional rulers from the Northern part of Nigeria have now lost credibility ( because of their avarice and lack of commitment to the emancipation and empowerment of their subjects) will be a prolong break of law and order in the North and the emergence of a new political class through mass movement. If this happens, the success of Mr. Jonathan’s presidency will be so bleak and short lived may be through military coup de tat.
    Nigeria is in a serious state that requires the assistance of the international community especially in the form of advice for the imperativeness of free and fair elections. And for the records in your article, you portrayed Zazzau and Zaria as separate emirates but they are one entity, most probably you wanted to mention Kano being another emirate torched by the restive youths.
    Thank you.

  • Posted by Ugochukwu Aladum

    I believe that the author of this piece did every good research and a marvelous work on this election.I am from the South,but I still believe that the election was heavily rigged in favour of the incumbent President especially in the South South and South East.How on earth can INEC explain the sudden large turn out of voters in Rivers State where more than 1.8million voted for PDP even more than number that voted in Lagos and Kano (and we all knew that Lagos and Kano has the highest number of registered voters around 1.6 miilion each),another funny areas were Imo and Abia Staes where the PDP got 1.175 million and 1.385 million in States where voters apathy were on the high side.Akwa Ibom is another funny example where the whole total registered voters were adjust to have voted for the PDP,simply meaning,that since the voters registration,nobody has died in the Local Government,and on the election day,nobody traveled nor was sick

  • Posted by maiganiharhanji

    As a Nigerian I agree with Amb Campbell’s summation of events in Nigeria. The country is divided and one only needs to read the comments of Nigerians on Nigeriannewspapersonline on any topic to see this huge divide. The comments drip with hatred and a huge chasm along religious , ehnic and regional faultlines. Solution? ENSHRINE THE ZONING OF THE PRESIDENCY IN THE NIGERIAN CONSTITUTION. Agreed this may not yield the best President at any point in time but it is the only solution for our democracy . It will then be up to the zones to bring forward their best candidate when it is their turn who of course may not be the best candidate the country has.

  • Posted by Bala NaAllah

    This is one of the most frank representation of what went wrong with the elections in Nigeria the only thing missing is the big question of legitimacy hanging around Jonathan. And whether Nigeria can validly be said to have a future in the hands of those who steal votes to rule. I think not.Bala NaAllah

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