What next for Nigeria?

Nigeria, Goodluck, Jonathan, africa, sambo, zaria, deaths, elections, future, buhariGoodluck Jonathan is the victor but can he now lead Nigeria to a brighter future?

Goodluck Jonathan is the victor but can he now lead Nigeria to a brighter future?

 

Elections were violent, expensive but ‘best for decades’

International observers of Nigeria may be dumbfounded to read or hear that, despite nearly 1,000 people being killed and over 60,000 citizens being displaced by rioting and violence, the recent Nigerian elections have been widely adjudged to be free and fair.

Add in several bomb blasts, the torching of Vice President Sambo’s house in Zaria and the burning of the Emir of Kano’s palace and then consider the statement that ‘these were the best elections in Nigeria for decades.’ A contradiction indeed. The elections may have been the best but they were also the most expensive – US$600 mn was spent on voter registration alone.

In drawing an inference from any Nigerian election, the complexities of the country need to be appreciated. This vast country, with a population in excess of 155 mn, currently has 73 ½ mn registered voters falling into over 200 different language groups, all to be serviced by over 100,000 polling stations.

There are 63 registered political parties although only 21 fielded candidates in the elections. Simply holding an election in Nigeria with its history of one civil war, 5 military coups and a mere 11 years of democracy is a considerable achievement in itself. Praise must go to the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Jega. Here was a man who had the courage to go to the President not once but twice to request that the elections must be delayed if they were to be properly conducted. The President wisely listened to him, displaying a new political maturity that is now evident in Nigeria.

22.5 mn votes

Jonathan received around 22.5 mn votes, almost double that of his main challenger, former military ruler, Muhammadu Buhari. It will be recalled that Jonathan came to power through the untimely death of his predecessor, President Yar’Adua. Consequently, this was the first election for Jonathan, enabling him to claim that he now has a clear mandate from his people rather than gaining the position through the implementation of the provisions of the Nigeria Constitution. What is of particular interest, in terms of the results of the parliamentary elections, is that people were supportive of Jonathan as an individual more than his party, the PDP.

Political opposition

As everyone knows, a good government needs a good opposition and, finally, Nigeria has a degree of political opposition. The PDP which, until now, has had an overwhelming majority, has seen this reduced in the recent elections. This is healthy for Nigeria and will enable Jonathan and his government to be better monitored and held to account.

The reduction in the number of PDP Senators and Members of the House of Representatives must be seen as a good sign for Nigerian democracy.

A divided nation

The elections were perhaps the easy past because having now being formally elected as Nigeria’s President, Goodluck Jonathan faces a deluge of challenges that his electorate expect to see rapid movement on. Above all the many challenges which will now face the President and his government, the greatest is perhaps that the country is not united. The election results clearly show the ethnic, religious and identity issues responsible for the inability to create a truly united nation out of Nigeria.

This fundamental enigma is by far the most important challenge of all and poses the greatest risk to Nigeria if it is not contained. The Muslim North and the Christian South appear as far apart as they have ever been and tensions remain very high. In this respect, General Buhari holds a trump card should he wish to play it.

A more conciliatory tone from him, seeking a degree of unity going forward, would be in keeping with his position as a former Head of State and would earn him immense respect, locally and internationally.

Jonathan needs to engage with the North, physically going there and meeting and speaking to the people. He needs to show them that he is President for all of Nigeria and has everyone’s interests at heart, irrespective of their religious beliefs.

 

Assurance of one term only for Jonathan

Jonathan has given assurance that he intends to serve for one four year term only, mindful of the controversy surrounding the essentially informal arrangement – ‘zoning’ - whereby the presidency rotates, until now, between North and South, Muslim and Christian. Four years is not long for Jonathan to make his mark given the magnitude of the issues he faces. Whilst the North / South divide may be potentially the most explosive issue facing Jonathan, the ongoing power shortage is the issue which, if improved, would be the most noticed and acknowledged change for the whole population.

 

The unemployment time bomb

Of course, in addition to attending to the power crisis, Jonathan’s government must deal with the conflict in the Niger Delta, the economic challenges of creating an economy that is less reliant on oil and gas and very high youth unemployment, amongst other pressing matters.

Youth unemployment has been cited as being partially to blame for the violence and riots during the elections. This vast mass of young people feel socially excluded and see no hope for themselves in future. It has been said by many others that this disenfranchised group is the raw material for political violence and thuggery. There is no easy or quick answer to this problem but the new government in Nigeria needs to give urgent attention to the unemployed masses. Whilst they are viewed as a ticking time bomb of social unrest they also have the potential to be helped to become a young, vibrant and talented work force able to assist in the development of Nigeria’s agricultural, mining and tourist sectors, amongst others.

 

Jonathan’s political assets

Whilst Jonathan faces a mountain of challenges, he is not without several factors in his favour. The high oil price, increase in oil production and increase in demand for LNG (related to the nuclear problems in Japan) should boost revenue flows and help the economy.

Central Bank Governor Sanusi, having only served two years of his five year contract, will maintain a tight rein on Nigeria’s banking system, introducing further reforms. Asian investors will continue to be attracted to Nigeria’s natural resources whilst weak economic growth in most of the developed world will serve to make the risks of doing business in Nigeria appear less onerous as compared to the rewards.

GDP growth continues at around 7 per cent per annum and this healthy figure is increasingly being driven other than by oil and gas. Inflation stands at around 11 per cent. Nigeria’s trade balance is healthy and improving all the time. Imports and payments in 2010 rose by 37 per cent to $41bn from $30bn in 2009 but exports also surged by $20bn to $79.4bn to give a trade balance of $38.4bn.

Foreign exchange reserves appear to have bottomed out at US$33 billion but Governor Sanusi has confirmed that the Central Bank will continue to use the reserves to prop up the naira in the event that it weakens. The regulator has stated that its targeted exchange rate regime of about N150 to the dollar was sustainable in the short to medium term. Governor Sanusi has said that a weaker currency would have serious economic ramifications for costs of production, for the cost of oil imports and for employment in an import dependent economy.

The final passing of the Petroleum Industries Bill should help to strengthen the peace process in the Niger Delta.

 

The future

The stability and economic success of Nigeria, the most populous country on the continent, is important for Africa as a whole and this is not lost on international observers and foreign investors. Nigeria makes a very major contribution to peacekeeping in the region, a role for which it is rarely given due recognition, and a serious unwinding of political stability in Nigeria would have very grave consequences for the whole continent. It must also not be forgotten that Nigeria is an important player in global energy markets and supplies around 10 per cent of oil consumed by the U.S.A.

An, as yet, unsung hero of the elections is Dr. Dalhatu Sarki Tafida, Nigeria’s High Commissioner to the U.K., who President Jonathan recalled to Nigeria to be Director-General of the Goodluck / Sambo Presidential Campaign Council. Interviewed in 2010, Dr. Tafida pleaded for Nigeria’s detractors to give Nigeria a chance. “We will get to the Promised Land” he said with conviction. Tafida has succeeded in getting Jonathan a clear and valid mandate.

 

Clive Carpenter

Alain Charles Publishing, University House, 11-13 Lower Grosvenor Place, London, SW1W 0EX, UK
T: +44 20 7834 7676, F: +44 20 7973 0076, W: www.alaincharles.com

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