What do Nigeria's election results tell us so far?

As Nigeria's election results trickle in, they hint at some emerging trends, such as regionalization of parties and the growth of progressive politics.

By , Guest blogger

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    People wait to register at a polling station at Oyeleye in Ibadan, Nigeria,Saturday. Nigeria slowly began the first of three crucial votes in the oil-rich nation Saturday, as voters came out to cast ballots despite a bomb attack and threats of violence.
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Since I posted some results from Nigeria’s legislative elections on Monday, the Nigeria Elections Coalition has updated its site with more numbers and has helpfully organized them into charts. Looking at the current count for the Senate will let us advance some hypotheses to explain the voting patterns:

Senate Elections (86 results out of 109 total seats):

People’s Democratic Party (PDP, currently holds the presidency and legislative majorities): 55

Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN): 13

All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP): 7

Congress for Progressive Change (CPC): 6

Others: 5

The results for the House of Representatives are broadly similar, except that so far the ANPP has no seats.

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Looking at the results, a few questions come to mind:

  • Are we seeing an intensification of “regionalization”? Throughout postcolonial Nigerian history, major parties have tended to have strong regional bases. Since 1999, the PDP has enjoyed national dominance, though regional politics certainly continued. What observers are calling a freer vote than past elections, though, may be allowing underlying regional divisions to emerge more starkly: thus the ACN’s gains are concentrated in the South West, its stronghold, while the Northern-based ANPP and CPC are winning seats in the North. Going forward, Nigeria could see regional rivalries become more open.
  • Are we seeing the popularity of “progressive” politics? The ACN’s victories may represent a form of regionalism, but they may also reflect the popularity of ACN’s celebrity Governor Babatunde Fashola. Fashola has made a number of reforms in Lagos State. The ACN also generated excitement by nominating former anti-corruption official Nuhu Ribadu as its presidential candidate (though note that this article says Fashola outshines Ribadu). Of the opposition parties, the ACN has won the most seats in this election, but other parties are attempting to claim the progressive mantle as well – recall what CPC stands for. Opposition victories, then, may speak to a widespread desire for reform that to some extent transcends regionalism.
  • Are we seeing triumphs of personality over party? Perhaps we miss part of the story if we look only at how the parties do: maybe individual politicians are winning based on their own skills, networks, and campaigns. After all, many expect President Goodluck Jonathan (PDP) to win re-election, and in fact to outperform his party, despite defeats for the PDP in the legislative races. The governors’ races should shed some more light on this question.

All of these are just hypotheses, and I hope commenters will let me know where logic or evidence refutes them.

As we puzzle over results, the presidential vote is fast approaching. Will the ACN and the CPC join forces in an effort to beat Jonathan? Will the elections go to a second round? This weekend promises to be exciting in Nigeria. Whoever wins, hopefully the elections will go smoothly and peacefully.

Alex Thurston is a PhD student studying Islam in Africa at Northwestern University and blogs at Sahel Blog.

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