By Paul Ndiho, Washington DC
March 3, 2011
Stakes are high in Nigeria as presidential candidates are busy campaigning for April elections. The poll pits incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan against seven challengers.
The elections have generated a lot of buzz across the country. About 67 million people came out to register in the recently concluded voter registration. However, the electronic system designed to make the process more efficient has come under heavy criticism. Some Nigerians wonder whether the new system will really help make the vote more fair. Government official Dimieari Von Kemedi says it will.
“The voters register is credible because the process that was used was based on biometric data capture, which means that they could easily phase-out all the double registrants which will probably reduce the figure a little bit, I don’t know. But on the whole the process of registration was a credible process, so that should only lead to a credible voter register and I’m very confident that Independent National Elections Commission (INEC) did a good job.”
President Jonathan opened his campaign in Nigeria’s “Middle Belt” between the mostly-Christian south and predominantly-Muslim north. His candidacy disrupts an informal regional power-sharing deal that would have given the ruling-party nomination to a northern candidate.
Analysts say President Jonathan needs to do well in central states to offset what could be opposition from northern voters. He’s campaigning on themes of national security and the economy. Commentator Okey Ndibe says there is optimism.
“Nigerians think that there is a great opportunity for their votes to be felt in elections that are coming up in April. Even so, I think that there is much to be concerned about. The internal primary processes for all the political parties were notoriously undemocratic. In all the parties it was either the story of candidates being imposed on the membership of the party or certain candidates using resources, financial resources, to bribe primary voters. And so, I’m wondering if the parties would not respect the ethos of democracy in their own internal process, whether they are going to be respectful of the integrity of the elections, the general elections coming up in April.”
Mr. Ndibe is confident that Nigerians are going to make their voices heard at the ballot box. He cautions the political elite against trying to manipulate the vote.
“Well, Nigerians have always been good at doing that I hope that in the shadow, in the wake of violent convulsions in places like Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, and so on, that Nigerian politicians might be chastened and understand that they run the risk of instigating rather widespread violence should they try to rig the forthcoming elections as egregiously as they have done in the past.”
At least seven Nigerian politicians have expressed their interest in running for president, but political observers say the opposition’s best chance of defeating the ruling party is forcing the vote to a second round, where President Jonathan would face a single opponent, such as Nigeria’s former military head of state Muhammad Buhari, former Nigerian anti-corruption chief Nuhu Ribadu, or some such candidate.