John Campbell

Africa in Transition

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

Print Print Cite Cite
Style: MLA APA Chicago Close


Nigeria’s Elections in 2011 and 2015

by John Campbell
January 21, 2015

A campaign banner in support of President Goodluck Jonathan (R) is hung next to a banner in support of Presidential candidate of opposition party All Progressives Congress (APC) Muhammadu Buhari and his running mate Yemi Osinbajo, on a street light in Ikoyi district in Lagos, January 21, 2015. (Akintunde Akinleye/Courtesy Reuters)


Nigerian anxiety is high about the approaching February 14 national elections. The country’s political class is fragmented, oil prices are falling, Nigeria’s currency has been devalued, and the Lagos stock exchange is in the doldrums. The insurgency called Boko Haram appears to be gaining strength.

Under these circumstances, some are expressing nostalgia for the 2011 elections, in which sitting president Goodluck Jonathan was elected, defeating Muhammadu Buhari. (Elected vice-president in 2007, Jonathan initially became president in 2010 upon the death of President Umaru Yar’Adua.) At the time, international observers proclaimed the elections as a dramatic improvement over those of 2007 (a low bar). Yet, in many ways, the 2011 elections set the stage for the current national crisis.

Nigerian governance under civilian rule has been characterized by power alternation between the predominately Muslim north and the predominately Christian south. Though enshrined in the governing Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), power alternation was a matter of practice, not of law. In 2011, it was the north’s turn. Jonathan’s decision to run, and his subsequent victory, broke from the power sharing principle, contributing to the alienation of many in the north. As in 2015, the two presidential candidates in 2011 were the Christian Jonathan and the Muslim Buhari. The campaigns were disfigured by appeals to ethnic and religious identities. Buhari won all of the predominately Muslim states, Jonathan won the rest (with one exception). So, the election results seemingly bifurcated the country between a Muslim north and a Christian south.

Nigeria’s constitution requires a successful presidential candidate to win 50 percent plus one vote of the total cast. It also requires the successful candidate to win 25 percent of the vote in two-thirds of the states. Otherwise, there is a runoff between the top two candidates. Since the establishment of civilian rule, no presidential incumbent has been defeated, and there has never been a run-off.

Rigging has long been a characteristic of Nigerian elections. In 2011, it was less obvious. Polling was better than it had been with more polling stations open on time and supplied with ballots than ever before. However, ballot box stuffing remained. Nigerian civil organizations saw electoral fraud at the collating stations, where individual polling station results are collated. In 2011, the goal of the rigging appears to have been ensuring that Jonathan met the two constitutional requirements for electoral victory.

When Jonathan’s victory was announced in 2011, there was rioting in the north, accompanied by the greatest bloodshed since the 1967-70 civil war. The rioting initially appeared directed against those in the Islamic establishment who had supported the Jonathan candidacy, and later degenerated into ethnic and religious killings.

In 2015, once again the contest pits Jonathan against Buhari. This time, however, the political class is fractured, making election rigging more difficult as a practical matter. There is anecdotal evidence that, once again, there are appeals to ethnic and religious identities. Hence, the results of 2015 are not fore-ordained, as they have been in previous elections. In that sense, the 2015 elections are “real” in a way elections have not been in the past. Wild cards include how elections will occur in the three states under a state of emergency and how the estimated one million internally displaced persons can vote. And then there are the refugees in Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. In the past, these populations would likely have supported Buhari, but if they are unable to vote, Jonathan may have an advantage. On the other hand, many observers are surprised by what seems to be widespread support for Buhari in areas outside the North.

No matter which candidate is declared the winner, there would seem to be plenty of grounds for the loser to reject the results. Hence, anxiety about the upcoming elections is not misplaced.

Post a Comment 14 Comments

  • Posted by Ahmed Tijjani

    This is a very balanced report of the real situation. I pray that whoever loses in the elections will just accept defeat for peace to reign.

  • Posted by Yisabella Ekwealor

    Very good article. The risk of an eruption of violence is high, especially if Jonathan was to win once again. Not only is the North under a lot of stress because of Boko Haram and the utter lack of efficiency of our army who failed to contain the sect. Another factor that may plunge the country into chaos is the dangerous game Buhari has been playing, using ethnic and religious resentment and claiming his victory was unavoidable – in a very “Yes we can” move, with his whole campaign based on the idea of change rather than a program. Now many disenfranchised Muslims feel that victory is theirs, and any alternative will leave them with the feeling they have been cheated – angry and full of resentment. Then again such shameful ways should not come as a surprise from someone who is running for the 5th time for presidency (and possibly the last time as well given he is 72).

  • Posted by Chuckwuebuka Alavavite

    You’re only talking about 2011, but Buahri has been around for quite a while. It seems that ever since our country has become a democracy he has tried to gain access back to power, and has reinvented himself in a new candidate every single time. The new GMB is all about change. Don’t be fooled, he is still the same military ruler who was oust in 1985. He just has better advisors.

  • Posted by Baleda Bonwe

    Thank you Mr. Campbell for a well-reasoned report of the proceedings. I am pleased that 2015 will finally be an election fair both from the political perch and on the ground in Nigeria — the country needs it. However, I am concerned that the challenger Buhari’s rhetoric to his supporters over the past few years (and especially in the run-up to February 14) will make a peaceful electoral process impossible. After all the bloodshed in 2011, he vowed to make more blood run in the streets if he loses once again. As a former military dictator and general, I am worried that he will follow through on his promise. I pray for my country during this difficult time, but hope that it will continue to march toward democracy and away from its troubled past.

  • Posted by FranklinC

    It’s really concerning to see on the one hand our president doing everything in his power to improve the democratic process by ensuring the elections are the most equitable we’ve ever had since 2011 (which was already a big step forward in terms of fairness), with the implementation of biometric card and providing extra security measures in the light of a possible Boko Haram threat during the elections, and the APC that has been caught hacking and creating fake voter profiles and voter cards. As long as Buhari does not cross the line and call for post-electoral violence, we can only hope that these elections go as smoothly as possible.

  • Posted by JeleelL

    I find it quite tragic that someone like Buhari is able to present himself again, but Nigeria will never forget what happened with the National Youth Service Corps members and the 1000 people that lost their lives needlessly when Buhari called that dogs and baboons be soaked in blood. I can only pray for people to make the right choice comes the 1’th of February. Four more years!

  • Posted by promise

    Please I think that un is seeing this country like this and the don’t want to say something of freedom to Nigeria,please un we need the truth from you people so that peace will rain let the country be separated as the low of un on independent please

  • Posted by Ndubisi Austine

    Thanks Mr. Cambell for your report on Nigeria in respect of the forth coming general elections. It is of truth that the ruling party has never seen a strong and determined opposition party since 1999.PDP,the ruling party, liberal as they claim has not done much to reach out to the poor and are not ready to.
    What Nigeria actually needs now is a change of baton,though peacefully and it is achievable if all contesting parties,including the ruling party play by the rules.

  • Posted by J. Ola

    Dont forget that Jonathan has been warned against running for second term. He should ignore the psycophants and fear for his dear life. A word is enough for the wise.
    OlaThe Hague

  • Posted by Anwar Hussaini Adamu

    I have seen up close the preparations and due diligence that has been put in place to ensure a successful conduct of free and credible elections come February 14th. The technology used is reassuring, INEC has gone digital, could the traditional political jobbers using archaic but well known and tried techniques of election rigging succeed? I doubt it. It is now bigger than even Jega, after all, he cannot announce a flawed result in-spite of a fully awakened Nigerian electorate.

    I believe the result of the 2015 elections would be in a voice so loud that none can attempt to suppress this will.

  • Posted by akinyemi

    With the way things are going, Buhari will win the election this time. And it is the vote from Southwest that will give him edge over Jonathan.

  • Posted by Okeke Ben

    Type your comment in here… The 2015 Presidential Election is going to be challenging tough. The Nigerians are eager to cast a vote for President Goodluck Jonathan.
    The President has been a man concerned about the development of this country & for the welfare of every citizen. Yet, he is not allowed by people who not only want to undermine his administration but also willing to destabilize the country.
    Let’s take a look at Maiduguri, a state filled with insurgents like Book Haram. The Northerners are not happy with the incumbent President simply because he is a Christian.
    All the Nigerians knows is that the 2015 Presidential Election will be in favour of the incumbent President whom we believe that has all it takes to rule Nigeria home and abroad.
    The people of Anambra, Enugu, IMO, Ebonyi, Abia, Delta, Portharcourt, Bayelsa, Rivers, Cross River, Markurdi, Lagos, FCT, Edo and other States are strongly behind Mr President. I know fully well that the Northerners are aware that the perpetrators of Boko Haram will soon be brought to Justice.
    All good and right thinking citizens of the country are expected to come out in Mass February 14, so as to show the world that our President is still worthy to be a president.
    Mr President, I am strongly behind u. Remember me when it happens.
    We love Mr President

  • Posted by Jimoh

    Everyone who has commented on this balanced and truthful write up has been biased and emotional as usual. Maybe Nigerians are destined to suffer. God will help us.

  • Posted by Olakunle

    It does not matter how many times Buhari tried in the past, but patience and perseverance is what really matter in the race of life. Because whatever that’s going to be better will surely have it rough and tough from the beginning. Abraham lincoln tried many times before he became the President of United State. All we re seeking for is change because we are sick and tired of this clueless govt. Believe me, if Buhari could clinch thed vote in Lagos and Kano, that means victory is certain.

Post a Comment

CFR seeks to foster civil and informed discussion of foreign policy issues. Opinions expressed on CFR blogs are solely those of the author or commenter, not of CFR, which takes no institutional positions. All comments must abide by CFR's guidelines and will be moderated prior to posting.

* Required