Nigeria, gone with the wind

March 28, 2011 § 2 Comments

Two quick updates first of all. The Central African Republic will report its election results within the next 8 days but with the opposition boycotting the election expect the KNK to win almost all of the 70 seats still in contention. Similarly it will be a week before we know the result in Haiti but it does appear that Martelly has won comfortably.

And so to Nigeria.

The arguably much more important Presidential election is next week, but this week it is the turn of the gubernatorial and legislative elections. Nigeria is highly federal with a constitution and electoral system based heavily on the USA and 36 highly independent states (this explains why laws in the predominantly Muslim north are so different from laws in the predominantly Christian south). On April 2nd all the governors, all 109 senators, and all 360 members of the House of Representatives are up, using first past the post elections in all cases.

Nigerian politics is dominated by the PDP. They have 87 of the 109 senate seats, 263 of the 360 representatives seats and 26 of the 36 Governor’s mansions. They are socially conservative, economically liberal, and electorally shameless. Crucially, from a point of view both of their success (vote rigging aside) and of Nigeria’s political dynamic they are reasonably pro-state autonomy – it was they who allowed the northern Muslim states to introduce Sharia law. However for all that, their support is stronger in the Christian south and it is from the Muslim north that most opposition has traditionally come, as this map from my friends at Electoral Geography shows (Obasanjo was the PDP candidate in this election).

2003 Nigerian Presidential elections

Most prominent of the opposition groups is the ANPP. Conservatives in every sense of the word, they have the governorship of three states – including the powerful and populous Kano state – 14 senators and 63 representatives. In addition, there are two more strong challengers from the north: the previously small CPC will enjoy a boost in fame after picking former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari as its presidential candidate. And another northern Muslim Mallam Nuhu Ribadu is also running for the presidency, and will be supporting opposition candidates in the north with his high profile campaign.

Meanwhile the PDP are set to struggle in the north after breaking an unwritten rule of candidate selection. The PDP have always rotated the presidential candidacy between northern Muslims and southern Christians. Last time they chose a northerner, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, but he became very sick about a year into his term and died two years in leaving a southerner (with a brilliant name), Goodluck Jonathan, to take over. Many northerners feel this means it is now their turn again, but Jonathan is determined to run for re-election (arguing that he never got a full term).

In Nigeria’s political prototype, the USA, in 1860 this kind of north south divide left the nation totally split electorally and the result was fairly unpleasant. Could the same thing happen in Nigeria? Well it could – the ascetic might be a bit different (although, if it does come up, “frankly my dear I couldn’t give a damn” is “da gaskiya ƙaunataccen na iya ba da ya tsine wa” in Hausa) – but I think not.

Firstly it won’t happen because the PDP has a far greater control of the north than the Republicans had the south in 1860, and so they will win plenty of governorships and seats in the north by cheating. Secondly, the north vs south story is perhaps the biggest one, and the easiest to tell, but it is not the only story of this election.

The largest opposition force in state politics at the moment, with five governor’s mansions, is the liberal southern-based Action Congress. They also have 6 senators and thirty representatives. The Progressive Grand Alliance – another southern liberal movement – also have two governor’s mansions, a senator, and three representatives. The centre-left Labour party is also competitive in most urban areas across the nation, and runs one state and holds one seat. Indeed to categorise this election as a north vs south / PDP vs the rest election is to miss the fact that the PDP are currently out of power in more states in the south than they are in the north. North vs south is not the only story in this election.

The PDP will win, Jonathan shouldn’t need any Goodluck, but what will be interesting will be to see what emerges as the new regional dynamics of the Nigerian opposition movement. Well I’ll find that interesting anyway.


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