Nigeria's 2011 presidential race tests North-South powersharing agreement
Nigeria's 2011 presidential race is squaring former president Ibrahim Babangida and former vice president Atiku Abubakar – both Muslims from the north – against incumbent Goodluck Jonathan from the Christian south.
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Underlying all this, of course, is the assumption that the PDP will remain unchallenged at the polls. Up until the elections of 2007, which by common consent of election observers was the worst election ever held in Nigeria, this could be guaranteed. But things have changed. President Jonathan recently appointed a respected academic, Attahiru Jega, to head the Independent National Election Commission, and gave the INEC 87 billion naira ($580 million) to keep the next elections free and fair. Yet, since political office still means access to oil revenues, the influence of corruption is difficult to eradicate.Skip to next paragraph
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The PDP itself is remaining silent on which of the contending candidates will emerge as its choice. But the fact that both IBB – as Babangida is known – and Atiku have managed to get themselves this far says much about the power of money. As one senior PDP figure put it: ‘If you check or do a poll on the population of the North you will find that there are those who have money and the power to do whatever they want.’
True enough: IBB has himself been accused of looting $12.4 billion from the oil windfall during the first Gulf War when he was head of state.
“I know that a day will come when Nigerians will forgive our regime because we are a godly nation that embraces the culture of forgiveness,” Babangida said: “Severally and with great remorse too, I have taken responsibility as a true leader for the actions and decisions of the military administration that I led.”
Babangida has also said that he would rule very differently than he did during his time as military ruler: “I have also spent many years to understudy democratic leadership in several countries and have mastered the art of democracy and learnt how to apply it better under our Nigerian conditions.”
Atiku, a former custom’s chief before he became vice-president to Obasanjo, is widely perceived as one of the richest men in the country. They have doubtless used that muscle to bulldoze their way thus far. In the process, however, they have undermined what used to be the north’s greatest political strength: the ability to temper personal ambition to the collective interest. Gone are the days when any lackluster candidate would do.
“I am not seeking the presidency because I want to be rich and famous,” Mr. Atiku said in announcing his candidacy. “Life is also about those with the capacity and talent to help others and the society as a whole to roll up their sleeves and do so. I have had the privilege of travelling quite a bit outside this country and I always come close to shedding tears when I see what countries that were less endowed than Nigeria have been able to do in the effort to provide infrastructure, investment support and social services for their people. I know that we can do the same in Nigeria.”
At the same time, any objective reading of their respective chances would seem to indicate that neither of them will stand much of a chance if the elections really are free and fair.
Corruption charges aside, IBB earned the undying hatred of the southwestern part of the country by annulling an election which one of their sons, the business mogul Moshood Abiola, was presumed to have won in 1993, thus paving the way for the five-year terror of his deputy, General Sani Abacha, who earned international opprobrium in November 1995 when he caused Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight of his fellow activists to be judicially murdered by a military tribunal which established their guilt even before it began sitting. There is also the tricky matter of the 1987 parcel bomb murder of Dele Giwa, a respected journalist who had allegedly obtained information about drug-dealing within the ruling military itself. But at least IBB, who has earned the nicknames ‘the evil genius’ and ‘the Maradona of Nigerian politics,’ has a certain charisma, complete with his trademark gap-tooth smile. This can hardly be said of Atiku, a lackluster fellow who resembles a party apparatchik better suited to behind-the-scenes politicking.
At stake now is whether the INEC can do the seemingly impossible. This will be the true test of whether we emerge into proper democracy or continue with what we are pleased to call our ‘nascent’ democracy. And behind this is the ultimate question of whether this large, rambling, fractured entity called Nigeria – an artificial creation to begin with – can remain as one. The stresses inherent in what one former politician accurately called ‘a mere geographical expression’ resulted in one civil war (1967-1970) and may now be facing a second, more serious one.