A presidential election was held in Nigeria on April 16, 2011. These followed legislative elections earlier this month on April 9 and precedes gubernatorial elections on April 26. I unfortunately don’t know enough about Nigerian politics to offer a thorough overview, but I’ve picked up enough to throw together something which makes sense.
The stereotypical simplified battle in Nigerian politics, society and lots of other things is north/south. The north is Muslim, the south is Christian or traditionalist. This, not surprisingly, is an oversimplification. Although the north is indeed largely Muslim and largely Haussa it is not ethnically homogeneous. The south is even less of a monolithic bloc, as it is divided between two large ethnic blocks: the Ibo in the east and the Yoruba in the west. Summarizing it as Christian or traditionalist isn’t accurate either, given that Islam extends well into the Yorubaland of southwest Nigeria. Ethnic battles used to be the major fault line in Nigerian politics with religion being somewhat of a secondary factor (but still a potent factor), but since the 1990s or so religion has become a much more important factor and seemingly the dominant fault line in Nigerian politics and society. This has gone along with growing Muslim radicalization in the north, the introduction of sharia law in northern states and so forth.
Nigeria became a democracy of sorts in 1999 when a new constitution was adopted, elections held and civilian rule restored following the 1998 death of murderous dictator Sani Abacha in 1998. Olusegun Obasanjo, a Christian southerner who had previously been a military ruler in the late 70s overseeing a finally ill-fated return to democracy, ruled between 1999 and 2007. A Muslim northerner, Umaru Yar’Adua was elected in 2007 but finally died in 2010, being replaced by his southern Christian Vice President Goodluck Jonathan. The dominant party since 1999 is the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), a corrupt right-wing political machine used to rigging the polls (as it probably did in 2007). But one of the reasons for the PDP’s success is also that it is the only major cross-regional party. Although stronger in the south, the PDP is by no means a regional southern party and controls a good number of northern states (though not the biggest one, Kano). Its main rivals, until now the Action Congress (AC) and the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP), were confined to specific regions. As always with the Nigerian opposition, it is wracked by regional, personal and ethnic divisions which prevent any meaningful cooperation.
Goodluck Jonathan, who has a wonderful first name and hat, was the PDP’s candidate for reelection. This caused friction with the north, who thinks that it was their turn at the job again. Indeed, the PDP has an unofficial rule of alternating the presidency between north and south. The losing opposition candidate since 2003 has been Muhammadu Buhari, a former military ruler between 1983 and 1985. Buhari, the ANPP candidate in 2003 and 2007, is a Muslim northerner. Buhari came to power in 1983 following the collapse of the chaotic Second Republic (1979-1983) and is credited for restoring order but were sidelined from power by other officers in 1985. He was running this time for the previously small Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). The AC, which is largely restricted to the Yoruba southwest, nominated Nuhu Ribadu (also a Muslim).
Goodluck Jonathan, to his credit, allowed for the freest and fairest elections in a long time. And because they were free, the PDP suffered substantial loses in legislative elections. Out of results declared so far, the PDP has kept its majority in the legislature but with 147 MPs and 57 Senators (thus far) it falls far below its 263 and 87 outgoing MPs and Senators. The AC has become the largest opposition force with 53 MPs and 14 Senators thus far (30 and 6 in 2007 respectively). The ANPP, which held 63 House seats and 14 Senate seats in 2007 has fallen to 20 House seats and 7 Senators with the CPC holding 35 MPs and 6 Senators.
Here are the presidential results:
Goodluck Jonathan (PDP) 58.89%
Muhammadu Buhari (CPC) 31.98%
Nuhu Ribadu (ACN) 5.41%
Ibrahim Shekarau (ANPP) 2.4%
16 others under 0.2% each
Goodluck dominated the south and broke 90% in his native Ibo-Ijaw Delta region (the old Biafra/Eastern Region). Buhari swept the north with varying margins, while Ribadu was seemingly confined to what is probably his home state (the Yoruba state of Osun). Goodluck’s results get better the closer you get to ‘Iboland’ in the Delta region, with the exception of Plateau state (a 70%+ Goodluck state bordering the north), which is apparently an historic stronghold of anti-northern and anti-Muslim populations who were often expelled from the Muslim far north. The map makes for a beautiful north-south split, which will allow the simplistic stereotype of north/south to live on. But it isn’t all wrong.
There were riots in the north, which isn’t all that surprising and the opposition has, in African style, rejected results but Buhari hasn’t shown that he has the determination to make a case out of it.