These are exciting times. Nigeria goes to the polls this month in what could be the most significant elections ever in Africa’s most populous nation. More than that, the election could prove as, or even more, important to the continent’s development as Ghana’s 2008 election or South Africa’s historic 1994 poll.
For the first time in Nigeria’s history, presidential power could change hands via the ballot box, as opposition candidate Muhammadu Buhari seeks to unseat the incumbent president Goodluck Jonathan. Whatever the outcome, the election will be close, creating the conditions for a historic acceptance or rejection of the results by the losing candidate, and perhaps more importantly, his supporters.
Elections on the continent can be crisis points. The Chinese word for “crisis” may not actually be composed of the characters for “danger” and “opportunity” but it is nevertheless true in Nigeria’s context. These elections could spell disaster. Boko Haram, the Islamist insurgency focused in the country’s northeast, could heavily disrupt voting in much of the country. Supporters of rival political parties have engaged in pre-election violence, which could set the scene for large pockets of post-election violence if one or the other side suspects foul play.
We could witness a nation deeply divided, with the loudest mouths on either side using regional, ethnic and confessional differences and distrust to entrench opposition. As one prominent Nigeria watcher told New African, “This could be absolutely catastrophic.”
Dangerous, yes, but the opportunity is also enormous. Nigeria can come out the other side of this almost perfect storm of challenges. And, if it does, the country’s democracy will be so much stronger and more robust. Nigeria will truly have entered a new era.
Without being melodramatic, that is what is at stake this month: catastrophe or era-defining success.
This is why New African has dedicated so many pages of the magazine you are holding to proper evaluation and analysis of these elections. What happens on the streets of Kano, in the forests of Borno, in the creeks of the Niger Delta, the campaign offices of Lagos, and in the official offices of Abuja will affect the whole continent. This isn’t just because Nigeria is a nation with around 15% of the continent’s entire population. It isn’t just because Nigeria has the continent’s largest economy. It is because Nigeria is also at the cutting edge of social change on the continent. Nigeria’s charismatic, sometimes brash style alienates some, but few can deny the nation’s raw dynamism.
And whether because of, or in spite of, Goodluck Jonathan’s presidency, this social change is happening quickly. Yes, it is uneven, but movements like Occupy Nigeria, public accountability organisations like Enough Is Enough Nigeria, government monitoring crews like BudgIT, mass global cultural acclaim, business success stories in spite of challenging circumstances, and an overall confidence, are broader and deeper than you might think, with clear roots in previous generations’ sometimes less noticed struggles.
Nigeria deserves our attention now more than at any other point in recent history.