Nigeria's 2005 General elections: Initial Reflections the Day After

I woke up bright and early this morning to find two emails from colleagues who wanted my impression about the Nigerian election. I proceeded to write a long emailed response that got lost in the ether via internet juju. Here's my briefer subsequent response:

This bellwether election crashed the "tried and true" incumbent expectations of winning votes through straightforward material inducements for vote-type transactions, which are described as "stomach infrastructure" politics, in Nigeria (we have a sense of humor about everything!). 

The president elect had run for all elections since 1999, when Nigeria made its 4th attempt since independence to embrace democracy once again. I think this makes his 4th try.  He's clearly tenacious and purposeful.  He also learned from past mistakes in choice of running mate, pronouncement, organizing grassroots support, seeking support all over the country, and securing financial resources to fund the campaign.

The winner's war chest was minuscule compared with the loser's. The winning coalition also have some troubling elements, including some former political elites who were kleptocratic, so we'll have to see if the president elect has the capacity to hold them in check, but I also don't think he would have won without those "masterminds" and their resources, including their considerable strategic cunning abilities. 

I see Nigeria as a country at a crossroads--the highway to ruin, which is easy to traverse, and the twisting, difficult road to reaching its full potential, which all Nigerians would have to commit to walking, or at least a critical mass of them, for any kind of meaningful change to occur. The president elect has a problematic history. He was a harsh dictator in the first iteration as a leader. We'll have to see whether he truly understands how to be democratic. But then again, the incumbent was never a military man and he had significant autocratic tendencies--something scholars of democratization attribute to the long history of authoritarianism.

Another problem is the cabal of venal elites that's part of the losing coalition and whether they are weakened enough to allow this administration to succeed. It also remains to be seen whether the rapacious elites in the president elect's coalition would not unite with their natural allies on the other side--the aforementioned venal elites--in order to protect their narrow interests.

There's much more one could say, but for me, given my involvement in the #BringBackOurGirls movement, I support the winners because they expressed resolve to rescue the Chibok girls and bring Boko Haram to heel in Nigeria's tormented Northeast. I believe them. The incumbent was never serious about this, except as a cynical last minute ploy to win votes. More annoyingly, his party so blatantly rigged, used violence and intimidation, and took Nigerians for fools. This election result symbolizes their rejection of these tactics, which is also extraordinary in Nigerian politics. Seems like we are seeing a somewhat "new day", but let's hope it lasts. 

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