Fears were realized in Nigeria when hundreds were killed in post-election violence. Not withstanding the post-election period, many observers have noted the peaceful nature of the presidential contest. Despite the violence that followed, this year’s election took place under favorable conditions and the election was considered fair and free by many.
Observers have noted that voters had registered in historic numbers and the process had gone relatively smoothly. Ballots were delivered on time and the process was relatively free of violence which has marred many of Nigeria’s past presidential elections. “I welcome the spirit of calm and restraint that characterized the conduct of the April 16th presidential election in Nigeria which appears to be the most credible election since Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999. I also congratulate the Nigerian people for their determination in exercising their right to vote for the democratic future of their country,” the European Union’s Catherine Ashton said following the election.
A peaceful presidential election and post-election period could have derailed a circular process of violence and vote rigging that has marred past presidential elections since the country emerged from 12 years of military dictatorship. Further, by winning a presidential contest that was relatively free of violence, Mr. Jonathan would conceivably have enjoyed legitimacy that was denied to his predecessors because they were elected under murky conditions including voter intimidation, ballot stealing and polling lists which were considered fraudulent.
Following the vote, the National Democratic Institute released a statement from Abuja, Nigeria, applauding the vote, “this presidential poll represents a step forward from seriously flawed elections in the past. Nigerian citizens demonstrated commitment and dedication as they turned out to vote in elections that hold the promise of setting a new standard for integrity in Nigeria‘s electoral process. The presidential election was the second in a series that appears to mark a turning point for Africa‘s most populous country.”
Former Canadian prime minister, Joe Clark, former president of ECOWAS and Niger, Mahamane Ousmane, Robin Carnahan, Missouri’s former secretary of state, and NDI’s Christopher Fomunyoh led a delegation of 30 observers who arrived in Nigeria to monitor the elections. While NDI noted some problems that lie ahead they credit the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) with improving conditions internally within Nigeria that made this historic presidential election possible. In particular, “Effective and committed leadership at the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is a key factor in the improvement over previous polls,” NDI said in a statement.
In predominately Muslim Northern Nigeria, following the election results, approximately 516 had been killed in Kaduna state, according to the Kaduna-based Civil Rights Congress. Thousands have fled following the killings and rioting in Northern Nigeria after it appeared that Goodluck Jonathan from predominately Christian Southern Nigeria had defeated Muhammadu Buhari who hails from Northern Nigeria. The hundreds killed are the result of riots by Muslim youths followed by retaliations from Christians.
According to reports compiled from the Civil Rights Congress, 300 people had been killed in the town of Zonkwa alone. In Kano in Northern Nigeria, many Christians had taken refuge in police and military barracks to celebrate Easter. Despite some evidence that the post-election violence is driven by dissatisfaction over economic stagnation in Northern Nigeria and endemic poverty, many of the rioters were driven by a belief that because Mr. Jonathan’s predecessor, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua (a Muslim from Northern Nigeria) died in office in May of 2010 Muhammadu Buhari should have won the election and become his successor not Mr. Jonathan.
The election contest primarily focused on security and corruption. Nigeria’s road to democracy since 1999 has been plagued with violence between Nigeria’s numerous ethnic groups. Nigeria’s Niger Delta has experienced a profound amount of violence. Many of the locals feel that corrupt business deals between past administrations and foreign companies have allowed Western oil companies like Royal Dutch Shell, ExxonMobil and Chevron access to vast amounts of oil that does not benefit the locals. Despite being the world’s eighth largest oil exporter, oil profits rarely if ever filter down to the average citizen.
The environmental impact of oil exploration in the Niger Delta has devastated the region further exacerbating tensions between the government and locals who have turned to violence directed at the oil companies. While the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill was devastating for the U.S. economy and the environment in the Gulf region, the Niger Delta has experienced between 1970 and 2000, 7,000 oil spills.
Despite the fact that Goodluck Jonathan hails from the Niger Delta region his administration has done little to insure that the region benefits from oil exploration in the region and in wider Nigeria. A significant number of Nigerians still live in abject poverty and the government has done little to institute development projects throughout Nigeria. “Since independence in 1960, and especially during 28 years of military rule, the state has mostly failed to provide security or adequate social services to its citizens. Despite more than $400 billion in oil revenue over the past three decades, nine out of ten Nigerians live on less than $2 a day. While the return to democracy in 1999 was welcome, citizens remain dangerously disconnected from their government,” International Crises Group reports.
While voting irregularities like underage voting occurred, this years election is a vast improvement over the 2007 election which was marred by violence, vote tampering and voter intimidation. The countless dead in this year’s post election violence also underscores the fact that violence in Nigeria is endemic. According to the International Crisis Group, approximately 14,000 have died between 1999 and 2009 resulting from ethnic and religious clashes.
Further violence in the days ahead appears likely as Nigeria holds legislative and state governorship elections. The government has dispatched troops to avoid further violence. The April 2011 presidential election further illustrates the religious and cultural divides that define Nigeria. Goodluck Jonathan claimed victory as a result of his winning the Christian South and Southwest and Muhammadu Buhari captured the largely Muslim North. Violence will persevere in the future unless the Jonathan administration and others address these divides.
Religious and ethnic tensions push various groups to commit violence against each other and Southern discrimination against immigrants from the North further creates tensions. Most importantly, more must be done to insure that more of the profits from oil revenues filter down to average Nigerians versus just enriching the pockets of a few well-placed elites.