Are Nigeria’s Aspirations As Regional Power Threatened In Elections?
National elections have been flashpoints for upheaval in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, and it faces another major challenge Feb. 14 as the country holds its fifth elections since the end of the military rule in 1999.
More than 68 million of the country’s 178-million-plus are registered to vote, according to the Independent National Electoral Commission of Nigeria.
The upcoming elections could be the most closely fought electoral contest since the 1993 vote, said Northwestern University Prof. Richard Joseph, a longtime member of the Council of Foreign Relations, in a recent scientific paper in the Journal of Democracy.
There has been much criticism of how the two main contending political entities have been approaching the electorate. The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) is led by incumbent president Jonathan Goodluck and All Progressives Congress (APC) is led by General Muhammadu Buhari.
“The elections are not about policies, but only about chiefs — not even leaders — as they stir up enmities between people and mislead them. They have manifestos and make promises but these are never worked out and fulfilled,” said Richard Dowden, director of the Royal African Society (U.K.) in an AFKInsider interview.
Criticism from young people seems to be even more pointed. Rampant youth unemployment in Nigeria encourages youth to get motivated and participate. In a Brookings Institution analysis, Tunji Akande said about half Nigeria’s population in 2013 was made up of youth, defined as individuals between 15 and 34. “Unfortunately, as the youth population grows, so does the unemployment rate,” Akande said.
In 2012, there were about 11.1 million unemployed youth.
Youth unemployment is mostly in rural areas and rapidly growing, Akande said. From 2010 to 2011, the share of unemployed youth in rural areas increased from 47.59 percent to 59.95 percent. The population of unemployed youth in rural areas rose from 2.9 million in 2008 to about 5.9 million in 2012,” Akande said.
A large number of youth are interested in the political outcomes, said David Seun Fadahunsi, a masters student in international relations at the University of Pecs, Hungary. The current internal dynamics including both economic and security challenges are coupled with the fact that there’s a general mistrust “between polity and the government because of the fears of rigging the elections,” Fadahunsi told AFKInsider.
Even those African countries that have introduced reforms and achieved high growth have not generated enough formal-sector employment to absorb the growing labor force, said Prof. Joseph Stiglitz, former chief economist of the World Bank and winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2001.
In a Financial Times article, Stiglitz praised the U.S. for encouraging foreign direct investment into labor-intensive light manufacturing and agro-processing industries, “where Africa’s large pool of unskilled labor could be used.”
Although today there is more chance to get education from the school system across the continent, crucial issues of quality and capacity remain unresolved. In a lot of countries the number of teachers and textbooks is insufficient. This is coupled with the scarcity of libraries, oversized classes, teacher inexperience and salaries.
In Nigeria, net enrollment for boys in primary school participation between 2008 and 2012 was 60 percent; for girls, 55 percent. Net attendance in secondary schools for the same period for both boys and girls was 54 percent, according to the statistics from UNICEF.
“Young people are half educated from bad schools, and this may well explode in the near future,” Dowden said.
The militant Islamist group Boko Haram not only attacks this secular education system, but also intends to forbid any political and social activity that can be associated with the West. The Boko Haram insurgency is high on the political agenda and national and regional security has become a major issue of the elections.
Jonathan v. Buhari
“Nigerian electorates are distrustful of a president who has allowed so much lives and property to be lost when action could have prevented such misfortune with their votes,” said Richard Ingwe, researcher at the Institute of Public Policy and Administration of the University of Calabar, Cross River State, Nigeria in an AFKInsider interview. “Yet the electorates are even more distrustful of General Buhari who assures that he is capable of managing and halting the problem that President Jonathan could not stop despite persistent assurances.”
Although Buhari had a terrifying regime between 1983 and 1985 and was a dictator, “he has been reputed for his posture of non-tolerance for corruption and indiscipline in public affairs, a factor that might have persuaded his choice out of five rivals who recently bid for candidacy of the APC ticket,” Ingwe said.
But Buhari does not have any new ideas and does not appeal to the South, Dowden told AFKInsider. “Buhari talks about the same old discipline, but cannot offer a new vision,” he said.
President Jonathan and his People’s Democratic Party are not trusted either with their incessant promises of transformation that have gone on too long, Ingwe said. “Worse still, President Jonathan has more recently come to be viewed as a person who has been preoccupied with rationalizing corruption (distinguishing it from stealing) rather than striving towards eliminating and/or curbing it,” said Ingwe.
Nigeria’s aspirations as a regional power are threatened with the coming elections, said said Victor A. O. Adetula, professor of International Relations and Development Studies at the University of Jos, Nigeria. All this turbulence comes at a bad time. Nigeria needs stability to strengthen its position in its region. “With a strong and growing economy, Nigeria is unquestionably an important regional actor with hegemonic influence,” Adetula said in a paper on e-internationalrelations.
Nigeria needs all the constructive engagements it can receive from external actors, Fadahunsi said. “Nowadays, new players such as China have shown themselves to be a dependable partner in development.”
Economic diplomacy became a key foreign policy objective during the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo (1999-2007), and President Jonathan also performed well on the economic policies and programs connected to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). But neither of them could deal with the country’s huge population that lives in poverty.
Competing with South Africa
Nigerians are not very concerned about any competitions between Nigeria and South Africa, or other prospering African countries regarding who can take the lead on the continent “when social, economic, political and environmental challenges facing Nigeria are nearly daunting”, Ingwe told AFKInsider.
The Feb. 14 elections are fast approaching and much is at stake not only for the future of Nigeria, but also for human security for the entire region.
Istvan Tarrosy is assistant professor of political science and director of the Africa Research Center at the University of Pecs, Hungary. He is Fulbright Alumnus (2013-2014) at the Center for African Studies, University of Florida. He is co-editor of “The African State in a Changing Global Context, Breakdowns and Transformations” (Berlin, 2010) and editor of “Afrika Tanulmanyok,” the Hungarian journal of African studies.