Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, January 30, 2015

Competitive election leading to disunity?

The incredible diversity of people, cultures, and languages in Nigeria makes unity fragile. Will a really competitive presidential election lead to a national breakup?

[I think it's more likely to lead to another military government.]

Nigeria election tensions raise spectre of break-up
The Feb. 14 vote pitting President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian popular in his southern oil-producing Niger Delta region and in the east, against former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim favoured in the north and religiously mixed southwest, is already proving violent, with the electorate in Africa's biggest economy more polarised than for decades…

Ever since 1914, when Britain carved Nigeria out of a swathe of West Africa that was home to diverse peoples speaking more than 500 languages, it has been dogged by the question of how viable it is as a unified nation state.

However, most analysts say that even if serious bloodshed follows the election, as many expect, the worst-case scenario of a break-up of a country of 180 million people remains unlikely.

"Nigeria has an enormous capacity to absorb risk," the International Crisis Group's Africa director Comfort Ero said. "While there are significant concerns about the elections, we are not predicting break-up."

The last time a bit of Nigeria tried to secede, it triggered the 1960s Biafra civil war in which more than a million people died. After that it seemed Nigerians were better off together.

But as the election cycle has hotted up, some have floated the idea of division, and Boko Haram insurgents controlling territory the size of Belgium in the northeast are waging an increasingly bloody campaign for a breakaway Islamic state.

Separately, dozens of people die every month in ethnic violence in the Middle Belt, where the largely Christian south and mostly Muslim north meet across a patchwork of minority groups that are likely to be split between the two candidates.

"Nigeria is bursting at the seams with ethno-religious ... problems waiting to explode," columnist Bayo Oluwasanmi wrote in the African Herald Express, a local daily, last month.

"Competition in the coming 2015 presidential election could break the already tattered ties that keep Nigeria whole."…

Besides regional and ethnic differences, Buhari is also a protest vote for many who say Jonathan has failed to tackle insecurity and corruption, Nigerians' two biggest complaints, and who was seen as tough on both when he ruled in the 1980s…

Ultimately what makes these polls so dicey is that they are a genuine contest, said John Campbell, a former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria and fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

By running in 2011 Jonathan broke an agreement with northern elites, in their minds at least, that it was the north's 'turn' to field a president. Now such regional deals are in tatters.

"In the past there has been a kind of consensus among the people who run Nigeria ... Elections at the presidential level were largely predetermined," Campbell said. "What we are talking about now are real elections, with a polarised electorate."

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What You Need to Know SIXTH edition is a wonderful guide to the course and the May exam.

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