Election in Nigeria Brings New Beginning

Nigeria. (US Government Image)

Nigeria. (US Government Image)

The recent electoral campaign in Nigeria saw violence and an exaggerated level of tension. The stakes for the two most important candidates, incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan and his main challenger, Muhammadu Buhari, were extremely high. Election Day glitches and accusations of fraud raised tensions further. In the end, when the results came in they brought a clear result, a peaceful transition and a new direction.

Muhammadu Buhari’s All Progressives Party won the election with a margin of about 2 million votes over President Jonathan’s party. This is the first time since independence in 1960 that an election has resulted in a peaceful transition of power. There was very little violence during the polling and vote count. With such a huge margin of victory, claims of discrepancies or voter fraud could not affect the outcome. In a first for Nigeria, President Jonathan called Buhari to concede and congratulate him on his victory. Although this is standard protocol for the United States, for Africa, much less Nigeria, this congratulatory call was a major symbolic step forward for democracy. The gesture will certainly moderate, if not discourage, legal and violent challenges to the results. It sets a new tone and standard for the post-election process and marks a dramatic departure from previous elections in Nigeria and other African countries where inciting supporters to violence has killed many and destroyed much.

The president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama, urged supporters of the two candidates to remain calm and to respect the election result. Archbishop Kaigama also asked security forces to remain on alert in order to contain post-election violence and new attacks by Boko Haram.

President-elect Buhari, who ruled Nigeria from 1983-1985 after a coup d’état, was known for his so called “war on indiscipline”, which did succeed in reducing levels of corruption in the country. His rule was also characterized by significant levels of human rights abuses. However, he is known as a man who has lived simply and avoided excessive trappings of wealth and power. President Buhari will need to uphold human rights and discipline and exercise humility if he is to bring about change in Nigeria.

President Buhari faces many significant challenges. He must foster competency and instill discipline in the Nigerian army if they are to defeat Boko Haram, while avoiding human rights abuses in the process. He will have to promote peace and prosperity in the northern Muslim regions as a long-term strategy to cut off the supply of future extremist groups’ recruits and financial supporters. At the same time, he will need to prove to southerners that he is also concerned about their welfare. President Buhari will also have to stimulate the economy if young Nigerians, a major portion of the population, are to find employment. Lastly, he will have to eliminate the corruption that has deprived the country of billions of human development dollars.

Last weekend’s election may not constitute a Holy Week miracle, but it is most certainly a blessing to the people in Nigeria. Let’s pray that those blessings continue.Hilbert headshot

Stephen Hilbert is a policy advisor on Africa and global development at the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development.

Nigeria: On the Eve of Crucial Elections

Nigeria (US Government image).

Nigeria. (US Government image)

On Saturday, March 28, Nigerians will go to the polls in a highly anticipated and politically charged election. Incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan is being challenged by Muhammadu Buhari in a very close race. The vote should have already taken place on February 14, but it was postponed by the Government because of instability in the northeastern region of the country caused by the extremist group Boko Haram. Government officials argued that they could not organize polling and that people would not be safe going to the polls. Boko Haram had taken control over 14 districts in the northeast state of Borno as of mid-February. Political rivals countered that the ruling party was merely delaying the elections because of fears that it might lose.

Government forces, reinforced by a regional task force of troops from Chad, Niger and Cameroon, mounted a coordinated and sustained attack on Boko Haram held areas. By March 21 they had taken back 11 of the 14 districts and claim to be close to defeating Boko Haram. In response, Boko Haram has returned to its terrorist tactics of suicide bombings to engender fear. Many believe that Boko Haram will step up attacks on the day of the election in an attempt to disrupt the vote and undermine its legitimacy.

The Catholic Church in Nigeria has repeatedly worked with the Muslim community for peaceful relations between the Christian and Muslim faith communities and for respect among the many ethnic groups in Nigeria. The Church has also consistently urged the government to promote social cohesion and good governance. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria met with the two candidates during the election campaign and called on them to be selfless leaders in service to the good of their people. In reaction to the postponement of the election, the Church insisted that the government should ensure that elections be held and that they be both credible and accurate. Pope Francis urged the bishops of Nigeria to remain steadfast in their support for peace in the face of violent extremism and fundamentalism. US Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Nigeria in January to promote peaceful elections. On March 23, President Obama addressed the people of Nigeria to urge them to reject violence and extremism and instead show their support for a more peaceful, secure and prosperous future.

The stakes in this election are high. President Goodluck Johnathan, a Christian, is running against Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim and former military leader. The Nigerian people are split almost evenly between the two faith communities that have long competed for power. Many fear that the elections will provoke another round of violence; in the 2011 election campaign about 800 people lost their lives. In an attempt to prevent instability, on March 23, the two candidates signed an agreement to respect the results of the election and urged their supporters to refrain from violence.

Let us pray for the people of Nigeria that they will deepen their democratic traditions, reject violence and take a big step forward towards a future of peace and prosperity. Hilbert headshot

Stephen Hilbert is a policy advisor on Africa and global development at the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development.