The 2015 presidential election in Nigeria is less than one month away but the average voter who should have been excited that he or she would be participating in a process that will ultimately determine who among the 14 presidential candidates jostling for the nation’s number one seat would be the next president, are a worried lot. Going by the sad experience of the 2011 election where over 800 innocent Nigerians including 10 members of the National Youth Service Corps serving in Bauchi were killed, many Nigerians have good reasons to be afraid. Boko Haram, Nigeria’s homegrown Islamic extremist group, is increasing the ferocity and tempo of its attacks, destabilising Africa’s most populous nation.
The threat from Boko Haram is only the most dramatic aspect of a situation in which almost every line on the chart of national stability is heading in the wrong direction. Falling oil prices are eroding government revenue, leading to a situation where federal authorities may be unable to pay those who work for them or even to maintain essential services. Corruption is getting worse. The overarching problem, however, is political.
The only silver lining is that Nigeria’s presidential, parlimentary and state elections next month will be contested by two major parties for the first time since the return to civilian rule in 1999, a change bringing with it the theoretical possibility of healthy alternation in a basically two-party democracy. Even if the elections do not descend into serious violence, perhaps intensified by Boko Haram outrages and the country gets through the elections without the worst happening, the new government will find its right to rule contested by opponents charging it with fraud. Such a weakened government would find it even harder to fashion an adequate military response to the northern insurgency, or adequate social policies to address its underlying causes that afflict the polity.