In 1999, Nigeria underwent its first democratic election in 20 years, and a government democratically chosen by the people was inaugurated in May of that same year. Since then, Nigeria has managed to avoid more of the military coups that previously caused havoc in the country’s political arena. In 2015, Nigerians will again go to the polls to elect their president, but with political tensions rising and an Islamist insurgency raging in the northeast, Nigeria’s future looks increasingly shaky.
Over the last few months, sitting president Goodluck Jonathan and his ruling party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) have received criticism from the political opposition and the main oppositional party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). The APC, which was formed in 2013 through a merger of four separate parties and with the sole purpose of challenging the PDP in the 2015 elections, has been lashing out at President Jonathan for premature election campaigning for quite some time now. Although the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has repeatedly told the president that this is a violation of Section 99 of the Constitution, which holds that political campaigning is illegal earlier than 90 days before the official polling day, campaigning activities have continued, although in a more discrete manner.
In late October, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal joined a host of other politicians in defecting from the PDP to join the APC. The PDP has been accused of trying to get Mr Tambuwal impeached, limit the APC’s freedom of action and conducting surveillance of party officials and buildings. On 20th November, the PDP resistance reached new heights, as Mr Tambuwal and other members of the opposition party were refused entry to the parliament building just before the members of the House of Representatives were to vote on a bill about the state of emergency in the conflict-ridden northeastern parts of the country. Although security officers (who are known to be faithful to the ruling party) argued that Mr Tambuwal was planning on storming the parliament building with a group of thugs and was refused entry as a result, other sources discard this claim and point out that if Mr Tambuwal had been absent that day, he could very well have been impeached by PDP lawmakers. Moreover, the PDP could then also easily have overrun the opposition and passed the bill on the six-month extension of the state of emergency. This bill would have made it possible for President Jonathan to select military officers as governors of the affected states. This, in turn would have given the president and his governors a lot of influence in the region during the February elections, and it would have been difficult to go though with the elections in several APC supportive areas. So, although the Speaker in the end did manage to get inside the building and block the vote, the fact that this only happened after opposition loyalists scuffled with security agents (who fired tear gas at them) illustrates rather well the messy state of Nigerian politics at the moment.
Furthermore, several days after the incident in the parliament building, agents from the Nigerian State Security Service (SSS) raided the APC’s main office building in Lagos. The agents told the press that the building was raided because they suspected that people on the inside were attempting to clone INEC voter cards for the purpose of election fraud. They did not disclose if they found what they were looking for, but the SSS did reveal that they had taken with them hard drives and documents for further investigation. Although it did not come as shock, members of the APC immediately accused the PDP of staging the raid, and said that this was just another way for the ruling party to illegally go after the opposition. In fact, they also claimed that over two dozen people had been arrested, and that several computers and hard drives had been destroyed. The APC further went on to point out that they would sue the government for the damages and wanted an independent group to investigate the incident.
What, then, does the future hold for Nigerian politics? Even though tensions and disputes between the two parties have been common in the past, these last developments should be characterised as an escalation, given that—if the APC allegations are true—physical interference and illegal use of state security agencies by the incumbent are relics of a political age gone by. Moreover, when 100 members of the House of Representatives launch a campaign that aims to impeach the president collides with news stories about increased crime due to political officials collaborating with criminal gangs to raise funds for their campaigns, it becomes clear that something is seriously wrong with the political arena in Nigeria, and that a ‘functioning’ political system again might be collapsing. As tensions between the two political powerhouses have risen to new levels, some fear that the polarisation around the two parties has taken a new and more religious dimension, due to the fact that the APC’s lead candidate, Mr Buhari, is a Muslim from the north, while President Jonathan is a Christian from the south. Consequently, many are worried that sectarian tension and violence will occur, just as it did after the 2011 elections, when around 800 people were killed in riots and sectarian clashes.
The key question is, then, what the future holds for politics in Nigeria. Will regime change and the possible return of Muhammadu Buhari, a former corrupt military ruler with little or no respect for accountability, transparency and human rights improve the situation, or simply deteriorate an already unstable and somewhat ‘fishy’ political system? Or will Nigeria be better off with the incumbent and his party, which has been in power since the end of military rule in 1999 and which is facing more and more pressure and criticism on power abuse and corruption? The answers to these questions, along with the outcome of the elections, remain to be seen.