Panel discussion on the Nigerian elections at The Graduate Center, CUNY

On Friday, March 13 the Advanced Research Collaborative at The Graduate Center, CUNY sponsored a panel discussion on the 2015 Nigerian elections.  We were privileged to have the following distinguished scholars on the panel:  

Nigeria should have had the general elections on February 14.  On the eve of the elections, the Federal Government of Nigeria abruptly imposed a 6 week postponement, justifying its puzzling action by a never before expressed passionate desire to fight Boko Haram.  The move smacks of deep, cynical manipulation of the plight of Nigerian citizens as part of the electioneering strategies of the ruling party.  However, astute analysts and scholars of Nigerian politics attribute the disorderly and untidy postponement to a fear that the long reign of the PDP over Nigeria was threatened by the Buhari-Osinbajo APC team. 

I had our abducted girls, women, boys and men on my mind.  I had the devastated communities in Northeastern Nigeria on my mind.  I had our Internally Displaced People (IDPs) and refugees on my mind.  I had the well being of Nigeria and its elevation to a country where the citizens truly enjoy the dividends of democracy on my mind. These connections are made even more inevitable by the rationale offered for the postponement of the elections--the restoration of peace and security to the states in the Northeast that are embattled by Boko Haram. 

Our panelists gave sophisticated, thoughtful, pithy analyses of Nigerian politics.  They make me proud to be Nigerian and also make me wonder about our dear country's proclivity to squander its wealth of human resources, since these are all brilliant intellectuals who are in Diaspora, and none is seriously consulted on matters concerning Nigerian politics, while we consult every Tom, Dick and Harry who seem to our political class to be "enlightened". Enlightenment in Nigeria is often conflated with white skin, and or determined by the most cynical cronyism imaginable.

The webcast of the panel discussion will be featured online only for a limited time.  Please view from the 26 minute mark, as we were unable to begin on time, due to travel challenges experienced by some of our panelists and audience.  We also went over time--discussions lasted until way beyond 5 pm.


Olufemi O. Vaughan - Bowdoin College
2015 Nigerian Presidential Election: Post-Election Challenges

The 2015 Nigerian presidential election will take place against the backdrop of the most serious security threat (the Boko Haram insurgency) in Nigerian history since the Nigerian Civil War of 1967-70. Focusing on Nigeria's prevailing geo-political power configuration, my talk will explore the implications of the Boko Haram insurgency for Nigeria after the election. With the apparent failure of the current administration to tackle this growing militant Islamist threat, I will argue that the post-election politics in Nigeria will inevitably be consumed with this crisis for several years to come.

Okey Ndibe - Novelist, Public Intellectual  
"When Siamese Twins Feud: Ideology and Cash in a Political Season".  

Nigeria’s forthcoming general elections have shaped up as a contest primarily between the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC). My presentation will argue that this amounts to a contest of ideological Siamese twins, and that both parties have far more in common, in terms of their vision of government (as a tool for a few to rob the resources of the state) and the fact that the latter party has drawn some of its most prominent members from the ranks of the former. Given this significant context, I will argue that the elections will be determined by such factors as cash (where the PDP enjoys a decisive advantage) and a broad misperception regarding both parties’ ideological identities (where the APC will benefit both from widespread public disaffection with incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan and the party’s seductive rhetoric of “change”). I will propose that the outcome of the elections will depend on the interplay between the power of cash politics, the appeal of “change,” and the extent to which the reality of the two main parties’ conjoined identities is erased. I will also contend that the striking failure by Nigeria’s progressive political actors, workers and intellectuals to recognize and seize a historic opportunity to define a potent third way is bound to haunt the country for at least the next four years, and even beyond.

Godwin Onuoha  - PIIRS, Princeton University
Reflecting on Elections in Nigeria: Lessons Learned and Future Scenarios

After fifteen years into Nigeria’s Fourth Republic, the 2015 General Elections presents yet another platform to engage with historical and contemporaneous issues in Nigerian politics. This presentation critically examines the nature of political developments in the country following the emergence of a viable opposition to the ruling party, and if these developments constitute the potential for a sustainable transformation of democracy. The presentation is divided into three parts. The first addresses issues arising from previous elections in Nigeria. This includes the nature of presidential power, how political elites construct their agenda, and relationship between power blocs and office-holders. The second deals with a critique of elections. Even when they are democratic, free and fair do not resolve the all the crises of political legitimacy, authority and confidence. Hence, democratic, free and fair election is not the solution to power struggle. Finally, the foregoing is subjected to a critical analysis that seeks to bring out the risks and opportunities embedded in the on-going developments and what these may mean for the prospects of a sustainable transformation of democracy in Africa’s most populous country.

Cyril Obi,  Social Science Research Council
Another “do-or-die” election: Whose preference prevails, where, how, and at what political costs?

As Nigeria’s 2015 general elections draw closer, the news coming out of Africa’s most populous country and largest economy continues to fuel anticipation and anxiety within and outside the country about the likely outcome. This is hardly surprising in a context where “politics is everything,” and political actors are willing to go to any length to win power in the high-stake competition for power; where the winner-takes-all, and the loser-suffers-all. Nigeria, Africa, and the world are faced with contrasting bleak or pleasant possibilities depending on the verdict delivered by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
This presentation goes beyond the 2015 elections as an event, to interrogate its nature as part of Nigeria’s political culture, structure and process for exercising choice over who legitimately holds (in trust) and exercises power on behalf of the people. Using Nigeria’s chequered electoral history as a backdrop, it critically examines the rather extreme tactics being resorted to by the dominant political parties within a highly charged and over-politicized political space, and what this trend means, both for the integrity and legitimacy of the coming elections, and its aftermath. Can the will of Nigerians prevail? Will it matter? If not, can Nigeria bear the likely political costs? 

Olufemi O. Vaughan, Geoffrey Canada Professor of Africana Studies and History, Bowdoin College, Maine 

Olufemi Vaughan is the Geoffrey Canada Professor for Africana Studies & History at Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine. He was also Director of the Africana Studies Program at Bowdoin. Vaughan came to Bowdoin College from Stony Brook University where he was a professor of Africana Studies & History, Associate Dean of the Graduate School, and associate provost. He is the author and editor of eight books, including the award-winning book Nigerian Chiefs: Traditional Power in Modern Politics, 1890s-1990s (2000), forty scholarly articles, and many reviews. He has been awarded several major professional awards, including a Woodrow Wilson fellowship, SUNY Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Teaching, and the Distinguished Scholar's Award from the Association of Third World Studies.
Cyril ObiProgram Director, African Peacebuilding Network, Social Science Research Council
Cyril Obi is currently a Program Director at the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) and leads the African Peacebuilding Network (APN) program, bringing his extensive research, networking and publishing experience on African peace, security and development to the Council. From January 2005-2011 he was a Senior Researcher and leader of the Research Cluster on Conflict, Displacement and Transformation at the Nordic Africa Institute (NAI) in Uppsala, Sweden. He also managed the highly regarded joint African Security Lecture Series for researchers and practitioners in Swedish public, peace and security organizations, organized by NAI in cooperation with the Swedish Defense Research Agency (FOI).

Okey Ndibe Writer, Public Intellectual
Okey Ndibe is the author of the widely acclaimed novels Foreign Gods, Inc. and Arrows of Rain, and co-editor (with Zimbabwean writer, Chenjerai Hove) of Writers Writing on Conflicts and Wars in Africa. He earned MFA and PhD degrees from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and has taught at Connecticut College, Bard College, Trinity College, Brown University, and the University of Lagos (as a Fulbright scholar). He served as the founding editor of African Commentary, a US-based international magazine published by the late novelist Chinua Achebe. Ndibe also worked on the editorial board of Hartford Courant, the oldest continuously published newspaper in the US, where his essays won national and state awards. He writes for numerous international and Nigerian publications, including the New York Times, BBC online, Financial Times, and the (Nigerian) Daily Sun. He is currently working on a book titled Going Dutch and other American Mis/Adventures, a series of essay vignettes based on his life in the US.

Godwin Onuoha – PIIRS, Princeton University

Godwin Onuoha is an African Humanities Post-Doctoral Research Associate at the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies (PIIRS), Princeton University. Before joining PIIRS he was an African Research Fellow and Senior Research Specialist at Human Sciences Research Council, South Africa. He is the author of Challenging the State in Africa: MASSOB and the Crisis of Self-Determination in Nigeria (LIT Verlag, Munster 2011), and his articles have appeared in Nationalism and Ethnic Politics, African Studies, Ethnic and Racial Studies, and Review of African Political Economy. He is on the editorial board of Democratic Theory: An Interdisciplinary Journal. 

 Mojúbàolú Olufúnké Okome Professor of Political Science, Brooklyn College, CUNY

founded #BringBackOurGirlsNYC after consulting with the founders of the movement in Nigeria. She is an International Political Economist whose regional specialization is on the African continent. Educated at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, Long Island University, New York, and Columbia University, New York, she’s a Professor of Political Science at Brooklyn College, CUNY; past Women’s Studies Program Director and past Deputy Chair for Graduate Studies in the Department of Political Science at Brooklyn College.  Born in Nigeria, she has worked on international development issues as a consultant for clients including the United Nations and Commonwealth.  Her teaching interests include a focus on the meanings of inclusive, equitable citizenship in the context of the interplay between globalization, democratization and economic development. Her research interests include: Effects of globalization, post-colonialism, and post-modernity on economic and political transformation; Gender, democracy and citizenship in Africa and African Diaspora Studies.  She has published extensively on these issues.  Her most recent publications are: two edited books published in 2013 by Palgrave-Macmillan: State Fragility, State Formation, and Human Security in Nigeria; and Contesting the Nigerian State: Civil Society and the Contradictions of Self-Organization; and one book co-edited with Afia Serwaa Zakiya published by Bookbuilders, Ibadan, Nigeria: Women's Political and Legislative Participation in Nigeria: Perspectives From the 2007 Elections. She founded and edits: Ìrìnkèrindò: a Journal of African Migration, and was co-founder and one of three co-editors from 2000 to Spring 2010 of Jenda: Journal of African Culture and Women Studies

The event was sponsored by the Advanced Research Collaborative (ARC)


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