Nigeria: Goodluck Jonathan’s last fight?
February 14, 2015
By Nicholas Hanlon*
[caption id="attachment_16378" align="alignleft" width="300"] Photo by: Akintunde Akinleye
U.S Secretary of State John Kerry sits beside Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria’s former military ruler and opposition party All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential candidate at the U.S. consulate house in Lagos, Nigeria, Sunday, Jan. 25, 2015. In a rare high-level visit to Africa’s most populous country, Mr. Kerry on Sunday urged Nigeria’s leading presidential candidates to refrain from fomenting violence after next month’s vote, and he condemned savage attacks by Boko Haram, an al Qaeda-linked insurgency. (AP Photo/Akintunde Akinleye, Pool)[/caption] There are several forces at play that make the new timeline for Nigerian elections a one-time chance for a decisive strike against Boko Haram. In addition to Boko Haram, Nigerian elections have a potential for violence themselves. With or without a domestic Islamist, insurgency a delay of elections is interpreted by the Muslim north and the All Progressive Congress party of presidential candidate Muhammadou Buhari as an extra-constitutional attempt to prolong power. That was one rational against the postponement of elections until the decision was made to do so on Saturday, a week before the scheduled elections. Apart from a rational, the calculus for Nigerian incumbent President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan might well have been to keep the election date, avoid the appearance of prolonging his term in office, and allow the disenfranchisement caused by Boko Haram to work in his favor. Such a scenario would allow for Candidate Buhari’s camp to reject the election results and resort to violence. Mr. Buhari was believed to be behind the 2011 violence in the north when a Muslim rejection of a southern Christian’s election led to more than 300 deaths and thousands displaced. With Boko Haram in the mix, the collective downsides over-shadowed appearances of good protocol by keeping the original date. The U.S. and the international community had urged as much. The presidential and parliamentary elections will now take place on March 28. Elections for governors and state legislators will take place on Feb. 28. Until now it has been ostensible that Mr. Jonathan had little interest in confronting Boko Haram and the international attention has put him in an awkward spotlight. If Mr. Jonathan’s administration fails to seize this window to take the reigns of the Nigerian military and significantly disable Boko Haram, it will confirm that he does not see himself as the president of all of Nigeria but only the south. The strength of former military dictator Buhari’s campaign is that his supporters believe he can achieve security and defeat Boko Haram where Mr. Jonathan has failed. The political moment between now and the Feb. 28 regional elections is likely the last calm moment for Mr. Jonathan to galvanize against Boko Haram before Mr. Buhari’s political leverage reaches a critical mass. If Mr. Jonathan makes it through the elections without taking the upper hand against Boko Haram, he will face greater challenges with an even weaker mandate.
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