Following the six-week postponement of the Nigerian presidential election on February 7, opposition sources are saying that the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) is heightening security fears in order to further delay the vote, possibly for one or two years.
The incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan, has moved to reassure voters that he will oversee what he described on 11 February as “credible, free, and fair” elections. While Jonathan has said he is prepared to hand over to a new government peacefully, the opposition All Progressive Congress (APC) are extremely wary of foul play.
APC agitators believe the ruling party are doing more than merely playing up to security fears; with varying degrees of reliability APC press releases have detailed alleged PDP plots to create divisions within the party. Likewise, recent leaked recordings have detailed how the security services were deployed to influence the Ekiti State gubernatorial election vote in June 2014. Stories circulating like this feed into the narrative of distrust between the APC electorate and Jonathan’s government.
The next four weeks are likely to be punctuated by more similar stories as the mistrust between the two sides further escalates. The postponement itself was achieved without significant public outcry, primarily because APC presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari led the call for calm, for now. Tensions are, however, quietly rising and Nigeria’s democratic process is looking increasingly fragile.
The APC and its supporters firmly believe that incumbent Jonathan and the PDP cannot win in a free and fair election. The postponement has been seen as a sign of vulnerability and a scramble for time in which to deploy resources in order to manipulate the outcome of the elections. Indeed, Jonathan appears to have exploited the logistical difficulties facing the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) by colluding with the military in pressuring the organisation to postpone the election.
An APC victory is likely to lead to unrest in the PDP heartland states around the Delta. Negotiating with the powerful interests in these important oil-producing states would be a major challenge for Buhari if he was to win the election, and could potentially lead to protracted instability.
The elections are also being held at a particularly critical time for Nigeria’s economy. The country’s outlook is looking increasingly bleak as it faces dwindling oil revenues, mass corruption, and a deeply flawed budget. A December 2014 report on “democratic governance” produced by the Afenifere Renewal Group, a Yoruba pressure group, argued that Nigeria’s democracy is facing its greatest threat since its reinstatement in 1999 with “divisive politics so pervasive that the concept of a free and fair election in 2015 is looking more like a mirage.” So far this foreboding prediction has been shown to be remarkably accurate.