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Nigerian elections, 2015: An example for other African nations?

Goodluck Jonathan was beaten by Muhammadu Buhari in the latest elections which seem to really reflect the will of the people, in a country plagued by various problems, which include the boko haram insurgency and astonishing levels of corruption.

Nigeria, the most populated country in Africa, with its oil and other resources has the potential to have a much higher standard of living, but because of persistent, extraordinary levels of corruption & kleptocracy that have permeated not only politics over a long time, its immense wealth only benefits a few people. There are high levels of poverty across the country, hardly or very little investment in the aging infrastructure, resulting in problems like insufficient power with frequent power cuts, too much dependency on oil, whose world prices have plummeted in the last  couple of months. Recent governments have failed to change this. The electorate tired of empty promises, with their lot not changing voted out Jonathan and hope Buhari, who many in spite of his past as a military dictator (Head of State 31 December 1983 – 27 August 1985) consider not to be corrupt and hope will be more effective at destroying the rebels, fighting corruption and moving the country forward.

Buhari became the first opposition candidate in Nigeria to win elections, leading the incumbent by over 2.5 million votes. Jonathan accepted the results and conveyed best wishes to the winner.

I promised the country free and fair elections. I have kept my word,

Mr Jonathan said in a statement. Furthermore, he appealed to his followers to accept the results and not engage in any activity contrary to this, including violence, as it would not be supported by him or the party.

The elections, though there were a number of complaints in some locations and attempts by boko haram to cause disruption, killing several people were considered by different observers as generally free and fair.

Whereas this may be normal elsewhere outside Africa, here are some noticeable facts about these elections in this African country:

  • an opposition candidate wins elections, beating the incumbent
  • elections are considered generally free and fair
  • relatively smooth, with at least much less than expected election-related violence

We have got used to having sitting presidents, somehow always “winning” elections however long in power or unpopular they have been. This is often done in a number of ways, including manipulating constitutions to remove any term limits, using all available resources to fight the opposition, denying or limiting access to the media, finding ways to demonize them, turn them into traitors, trump up charges to get them arrested and making sure the electoral commissions are manned by government-friendly personnel. Sadly, no region of Africa, be it South, West, Central, North or East Africa is clean. There are lots of “virtual monarchs” apparently “elected” never to leave, at least peacefully again … across the continent …, 15, 20, 30, 35 years in power! One does not need military coups to come & stay in power, although we have had a couple of them, e.g. in Egypt, if once you get there, you can organize elections that keep you there indefinitely.

Could Nigeria as the biggest economy and influential in other ways provide an example with this election for other African “democracies” or will it be one of the few exceptions?

Here are election calendars from the National Democratic Institute & the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa.

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